By Keiller Kyle, Tricolored Blackbird Program Manager
Opening Day has come; Opening Day for the Tricolored Blackbird season, that is. Despite being on the job for four springs so far, my blood still starts pumping faster when I come upon a Tricolored Blackbird colony. Usually I can tell I’m getting close to one of the wonders of nature from over a mile away as I scan the tops of the waving grain and alfalfa of the San Joaquin River Valley for the vast clouds of beating wings that look like a swarm of bees rising from the horizon. I visited one of the first colonies of the season with a co-worker last week, someone who hasn’t seen a colony before, and as we drove up, we were bombarded by streaming birds flying in every direction. But what really got us was the song chorus of thousands of males shouting out their scratchy, cat-like song of love that, although not as pretty as the Red-winged Blackbird, is beautiful nonetheless. She was amazed, mouth agape, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – Tricolors have a way of doing that to people.
This year started with a bang with a massive colony of 20,000 excited birds settling on a Tulare County dairy farm. Since that first colony, we have located eight more colonies nesting on San Joaquin Valley dairies totaling over 100,000 birds. The dry conditions and the lack of spring flooded wetlands seem to be drawing the birds onto farms in large numbers. Fortunately for the birds and the farms they have decided to use, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Audubon California are again implementing the Tricolored Blackbird Habitat Initiative to help provide technical assistance and financial support to farmers willing to accommodate these large colonies that represent over half of the world’s population of Tricolors. Building on the success of last year’s program, farmers have already started signing up for the program and have shown a great amount of understanding and willingness to help save one of California’s iconic species.
Additionally, we at Audubon California have started our annual Tricolored Blackbird campaign that asks for donations to help us build the much needed habitat in wetlands and other natural areas to attract the birds out of the farm fields. We’ve calculated the cost of protecting Tricolors and it comes to this: for $1 we can save one Tricolor. So far, we’ve paid for harvest delays, flooding wetlands, and habitat projects all aimed at protecting Tricolors where they are threatened and giving the safe, stable places to nest and raise their young. With help from farmers, Tricolored Blackbird supporters, and many partnerships, we plan on making the 2013 season a successful one.