Agreements with California farmers seal protection of rare Tricolored Blackbird colonies

Tricolored Blackbird
Martin Meyers
Published: Jun 10, 2011
Emeryville, CA - 
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Emeryville, Calif. - Through negotiated agreements with farmers in Central California and Riverside County, Audubon California has secured the safety of several large colonies of rare Tricolored Blackbirds. In all, the agreements resulted in the protection of the breeding production of at least 50,000 birds, which constitutes more than 10 percent of the species' global population.

"More than 95 percent of the world's Tricolored Blackbirds live in California, so we have a special responsibility to protect them," said Graham Chisholm, executive director of Audubon California. "This shows what private landowners can do to help a declining species and make a big conservation impact. Their willingness to help has been inspiring."

In the early 20th Century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks numbered in the millions, but since then the population has declined to fewer than 400,000 today. The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of wetlands and grasslands in southern California and the Central Valley is the main issue.

With the loss of native habitat, the species has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in grain fields. Because Tricolored Blackbirds nest in just a few huge colonies, a farmer harvesting a field unknowingly might wipe out a huge portion of the entire species' young in just a few minutes. Audubon California negotiates with farmers to delay the harvesting of these fields, compensating the farmers for the loss of value of their crops that might result from the delay.

This spring, Audubon California sealed three such agreements. We also paid another farm near a colony for grain to feed one of the protected colonies, so that the birds wouldn't reduce the value of neighboring crops. Lastly, Audubon California also negotiated an agreement with a Kern County duck club to water its marsh habitat during the spring, which helped to support a 5,000-bird breeding colony.

While Audubon California has facilitated the agreements, most of the funding has through the California Department of Fish and Game. In one instance, however, Audubon California used revenue from a special fundraising campaign to save a particularly valuable colony in Riverside County. Revenue from Audubon California's online 5 dollars/5 birds Campaign went to pay a farmer in Riverside County to delay cutting a 30-acre field holding 4,000 birds. This colony represents more than 70 percent of Tricolored Blackbirds in Southern California, where the population has been plummeting in recent years.

"I want to thank everyone who took action to help us work with farmers to save Tricolored Blackbird nests," said Chisholm. "It's a simple steps that made a big difference."

About Audubon California
Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. Audubon California is a field program of Audubon, which has more than 60,000 members in California and an affiliated 48 local chapters dedicated to protecting birds, wildlife and the habitats that support them.

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The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.