The Grasshopper Sparrow is easier heard than seen. Earlier this month, our colleagues at the Audubon Bobcat Ranch heard the furtive bird’s signature two staccato notes followed by the long whistling buzz, and followed the sounds to two separate breeding pairs. This was cause for celebration, and a vindication of Audubon California’s efforts to restore native grasses to the Central Valley. This is the first time this species has ever been observed on the Bobcat Ranch since Audubon has been working there. (Grasshopper Sparrow photo by Greg Smith)
Not long ago, the Central Valley had large expanses of native grasses, interspersed with wildflowers, and this habitat supported a wide array of wildlife species. Today, those native perennial grasslands have been largely lost, and replaced with farms and annual grasslands consisting mostly of introduced European grasses. The result of this changed landscape is that many of our grassland-dependent bird species are declining. One such species is the Grasshopper Sparrow, a California Bird Species of Special Concern.
Ten years ago, with support from the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners Program, Center For Land-based Learning, Cal Fire, and Winters Fire Department, Audubon California carried out a 91-acre native grassland restoration project on the Audubon Bobcat Ranch in western Yolo County. We did this to bring back a disappearing landscape, and to provide the species dependent upon this habitat type a place to live. The Grasshopper Sparrow was high on our list of targets for the project.
(New native grass plantings on the Audubon Bobcat Ranch in Yolo County.)
Here are few facts about California grasslands:
- Grasslands cover 25% of the state, but (depending on how you count it) only 1 or 2% is native, making them one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America.
- Because of that substantial loss grasslands play host to 90% of the plant species CNPS’s Inventory of Rare and Endangered Species in California (many found in and around vernal pools).
- 25 animal species listed as threatened or endangered are grassland dependent
- Nearly 90 percent of CA grasslands are privately owned with only 4 percent in permanent conservation.