Drought’s hit on rice farming hurts birds

June 11th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost


We’ve discussed before how rice farming has played an important role for migratory ducks and geese in the absence of good habitat. As water has been diverted from the refuges, these farms have provided essential habitat and food for birds. Today’s Los Angeles Times highlights how the drought has hurt rice farming, and how that has impacted migratory birds. Definitely worth a read.

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Categories: Audubon California · Bird Habitat · drought · Water issues

Wintering population of Pacifica Snowy Plovers increasing

June 9th, 2015 · by Ariana Rickard


A tiny, often overlooked winter visitor to Pacifica State Beach is now enjoying additional protection thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.

The Western Snowy Plover is a federally threatened species that relies on Pacifica State Beach (also known as Linda Mar Beach) as a wintering site, usually arriving around mid-August and leaving in March or April. During this time they fatten up on a rich protein diet of kelp flies, beach hoppers, other insects and small invertebrates washed up on the beach, and occasionally in the back dunes.

The Western Snowy Plover winter roosting population at Pacifica State Beach has declined by 75% over the last 12 years. Snowy Plovers have declined throughout their range on the Pacific Coast due to human disturbance, habitat destruction, and animal predation. [Read more →]

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Categories: Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Endangered Species Act · How to help birds · Local Policy · Western Snowy Plover

It’s not just dogs who pant to cool down

June 8th, 2015 · by Daniela Ogden


A new study from a team of scientists from University of New Mexico and University of Pretoria, South Africa, shows that small songbirds will pant to reduce body temperature when in desert climates. From The Journal of Experimental Biology:

Carefully trapping birds in the arid southern Kalahari Desert, Wolf, Maxine Whitfield and Ben Smit gently injected a minute thermometer into the abdomen of the each of the birds before measuring the animals’ body temperature, metabolic rate and water loss as the temperature increased gradually from 25°C to a sweltering 54°C. However, if the birds began to overheat, the team jumped in quickly, getting the animals’ temperature back to normal by holding them in front of a chilly air conditioner while wiping them with ethanol…

The birds were able to offload heat to the environment at a rate faster than they were producing it through metabolism… the birds lose heat by evaporation to maintain a body temperature that is lower than the air temperature.

Source: Knight, Kathryn (2015). Hot birds pant to keep cooler than air. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 1615-1617.

Photo of Cactus Wren by Henry T. McLin


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Categories: Science

A new conservation tool for Burrowing Owls

June 4th, 2015 · by Daniela Ogden


Guest post by Katie Krieger, GIS Analyst, Important Bird Areas

Audubon California has created an interactive map tool to shed light on risks to Burrowing Owls and help illuminate possible conservation solutions. The tool consolidates Burrowing Owl survey observations (both individual owls and burrows) from the past decade in the Imperial Valley. To help researchers understand what factors might be driving owls to choose these locations, the map also displays renewable energy projects, crop types, irrigation canals and drains, and much more.

Just south of the Salton Sea lies the Imperial Valley, a globally significant Important Bird Area and home to about 70% of the state’s breeding Burrowing Owls, or about 4,000 pairs. This quirky and easily recognizable species weighs about the same as an apple… or an Apple iPhone 6 Plus! True to its name, Burrowing Owls use burrows as nests.

The population of this small bird has been in sharp decline over the last 50 years, and it is now designated as a California Bird Species of Special Concern by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. No one factor has been implicated in its decline, but human activities have had a substantial impact. A long tradition of farming and the more recent development of renewable energy in the region both pose risks to this bird’s habitat. [Read more →]

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Categories: Alternative energy · Conservation research · Important Bird Areas · Science

Climate Change Resilience: Protecting bird habitat and promoting public health

June 3rd, 2015 · by Ariana Rickard


Last Friday I provided testimony on behalf of Audubon California at an Informational Hearing on “Bay Area Regional Adaptation Efforts to Climate Change Impacts” at the Oakland City Council. Senator Bob Wieckowski, the Chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, convened experts from academia, government agencies, and nonprofits to discuss climate change impacts and adaptation efforts in the Bay Area. The hearing provided an opportunity for the committee and the public to learn about initiatives to prepare for impacts from climate change.

During the public comment portion of the hearing, I thanked the Committee for emphasizing the work non-profits are doing to reduce carbon emissions and help communities adapt to climate change. I also stressed that protecting habitat for birds, like the climate endangered Yellow-billed Magpie, will help wildlife be more resilient to changes in California’s climate and will also improve local air quality, reduce heat-island effects in urban areas and provide open space for communities to recreate and keep healthy. Similar hearings are scheduled for the Central Valley (Fresno) and southern California (Los Angeles). We will provide updates on the dates and details when they become available and let you know how you can be a voice for birds on climate change and other important issues.

(photo of the Yellow-billed Magpie by Andrew Reding/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Categories: Audubon California · Bird Habitat · Climate Change · Uncategorized · Yellow-billed Magpie

Dark-eyed Juncos follow their nose

June 2nd, 2015 · by Daniela Ogden


Scientists have long dismissed birds as odor-eschewing Luddites that don’t take advantage of scent-based communications. But a Michigan State University researcher has demonstrated that birds communicate via scents, and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success.

Birds’ preen glands are located near their tails. Using their beaks, birds extract oil from the glands and rub it on their feathers and legs. Historically, this activity was thought to simply bolster the strength of feathers. Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, and her research team, however, have shown that it plays a key role in signaling reproductive health.

“This study shows a strong connection between the way birds smell near the beginning of the breeding season – when birds are choosing mates – and their reproductive success for the entire season,” she said. “Simply put, males that smell more ‘male-like’ and females that smell more ‘female-like’ have higher genetic reproductive success.” [Read more →]

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Categories: Science

Stupid bird humor

June 2nd, 2015 · by Daniela Ogden


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Categories: stupid bird humor

It’s easy to ask your State Senator to vote for climate change bills

June 2nd, 2015 · by Garrison Frost

Audubon California is supporting a slate of climate change-related bills going before the California State Senate tomorrow. We’re asking people to email their senators, but nothing is more effective than phone calls. In the video below, we demonstrate just how easy it is to call your senator to ask him or her to vote for these bills:

The website to learn the name and phone number of your state senator is It’s super easy to use. More information about the bills is below the fold.

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Categories: Alternative energy · Audubon California · Bird conservation · Climate Change · Global Warming

Santa Barbara oil spill highlights need for restricting new offshore oil drilling

May 27th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost


Because oil spills are particularly hazardous to birds and some of their most precious habitat, Audubon California has long been opposed to any new offshore oil drilling in California. We need to look no further than last week’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach, which dumped as much as 105,000 gallons of oil on the beach and into the waters near Santa Barbara, to see the toll that oil spills can take on birds, other wildlife, and habitat. While the Refugio spill was from an onshore pipeline, and not a well, it nonetheless shows the risk we take putting oil facilities so close to habitat.

And that’s why Audubon California has supported Assembly Bill 788, the California Coastal Protection Act, since it was introduced earlier this year. Authored by State Senator Mike McGuire and State Senator Hannah Beth, the bill seeks to forever protect California’s coast from new offshore oil development in state waters by closing a loophole in the Coastal Sanctuary Act that currently would allow the State Lands Commission to grant new leases for offshore oil and gas development.

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Categories: Audubon California · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Pollution · seabirds · State Policy

Latest numbers on wildlife harmed by Santa Barbara oil spill

May 27th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost

These numbers come via the Oiled Wildlife Care Network:


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Categories: Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird Habitat · Pollution · Western Snowy Plover

Frank Mendonsa on the Tricolored Blackbird in his fields

May 26th, 2015 · by Daniela Ogden

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Categories: Tricolored Blackbird · Working lands conservation

Latest wildlife impacts from the Santa Barbara Oil Spill

May 26th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost

Here are the latest numbers from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network from the Santa Barbara Oil Spill.


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Categories: Audubon California · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Pollution · Western Snowy Plover

Plovers showing signs of oil at Coal Oil Point Preserve

May 25th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost


Apparently, things haven’t improved at Coal Oil Point, where a group of volunteers is trying to protect a breeding colony of Western Snowy Plovers from the oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara. Apparently, now a number of plovers show evidence of oil. Here’s the latest update from Cristina Sandoval, preserve manager at Coal Oil Point:

Just as I thought we were spared, yesterday evening, after my update, we started smelling more oil. By sunrise this morning the beach seemed to have more oil than ever. A crew of 5 started cleaning it up with rakes and by hand and putting the oil blobs and oiled kelp in plastic bags, and then hauling them uphill, also by hand. It was hard work, and by the end of the day, we realized we only did a small portion of the beach. The high tide in the evening brought more oil everywhere including areas that had already been cleaned. It seemed a worthless effort but, if the oil is not cleaned, it will be buried and continue to release toxic chemicals. In total, we have seen 3 plovers with oil on the feathers but, at a closer look, Suzanne, one of our docents and photographer, noticed that many of them had oil in their beaks.

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Categories: Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Pollution · Western Snowy Plover

First — and hopefully last — oiled Western Snowy Plovers at Coal Oil Point Preserve

May 24th, 2015 · by Garrison Frost


We’ve heard from Cristina Sandoval at the Coal Oil Point Reserve in Santa Barbara that, while oil from the nearby oil spill at Refugio State Park has been light at the reserve, and even dwindling, there has been at least two Threatened Western Snowy Plovers affected by the oil. In a past post, we expressed concern that the Threatened Western Snowy Plovers at Coal Oil Point Preserve in Santa Barbara would be affected by the oil spill that started north of there at Refugio State Park. In a Facebook post, Sandoval says on the reserve Facebook page that in addition to two plovers spotted with oil, one pelican and one young sea lion, were spotted and rescued, as well.

Here’s her entire update:

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Categories: Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Pollution · Western Snowy Plover

The latest on the Santa Barbara oil spill

May 23rd, 2015 · by Garrison Frost


Here’s the latest information we have on the oil spill, from state officials:

In response to the oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, state and federal officials have activated something called the Unified Incident Command System which the government organizes to respond to major disasters, such as earthquakes and wildfires. This command is estimating that as much as 105,000 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline, only a fraction of which entered the ocean.

Reportedly, eight oiled pelicans are being treated. Five birds have been found dead, including a Red-Throated Loon, grebes, and gulls. There have been two oiled juvenile sea lions, one oiled young elephant seal, and one or two oiled dolphins. (It looks as though one of the sea lions has died). It is believed that the highest wildlife mortality likely will be fish and invertebrates living in the kelp forests affected by the spill. More details are at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network website.

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Categories: Audubon California · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Pollution · State Policy