The Cuyama Valley extends for about 15 miles along the middle Cuyama River, which flows west through the Coast Range about 80 miles inland of Santa Maria. Surrounded by dry hills, its habitat represents a fascinating intersection of Central Valley, Mojave Desert, and coastal influences virtually unique in the world. Where uncultivated, the valley floor alternates between alkali sink scrub and grassland, and the hills support a sparse sage scrub with pinyon-juniper woodland on north-facing slopes. The valley has long been under intensive agricultural cultivation (mainly alfalfa) and cattle grazing, both of which have left the Cuyama River and the underlying water table drastically depleted. The protected Carrizo Plain Natural Area lies just over the Caliente Range to the north, and several wilderness areas of the Los Padres National Forest are to the south, affording the IBA a level of security found in only a handful of areas (notably the South Fork Kern Valley).

Ornithological Summary

Due to the preponderance of private land in the area, the bird communities of Cuyama Valley are poorly known (see Lehman 1994), but represent a subset of what may be found at Carrizo Plain to the north, with the addition of a handful of desert species. The winter raptor community is large and diverse, though variable based on rainfall. The valley floor sustains breeding colonies of Tricolored Blackbird and Burrowing Owl and the low hills support nesting Prairie Falcon, canescens Sage Sparrow, and San Joaquin Le Conte's Thrasher (just north of Ballinger Canyon, fide S. Fitton). These are joined by a disjunct population of Black-throated and Brewer's sparrows and Scott's Oriole that reach the northwestern limit of their ranges in the southern Caliente Mountains that form the north side of the Cuyama Valley. While only patches of riparian habitat remain along the Cuyama River, the restoration potential, given the amount of open space in the area, should be considered very high.

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Conservation Issues

The avifauna of the Cuyama Valley should be considered pushed to its limits by the intensive agriculture that dominates this IBA. Because of this, it is likely that even limited restoration projects, such as fencing streams and rotating grazing on pasture, would result in dramatic responses by the birds here.

Habitat

The Cuyama Valley extends for about 15 miles along the middle Cuyama River, which flows west through the Coast Range about 80 miles inland of Santa Maria. Surrounded by dry hills, its habitat represents a fascinating intersection of Central Valley, Mojave Desert, and coastal influences virtually unique in the world. Where uncultivated, the valley floor alternates between alkali sink scrub and grassland, and the hills support a sparse sage scrub with pinyon-juniper woodland on north-facing slopes. The valley has long been under intensive agricultural cultivation (mainly alfalfa).

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