Farmers Delay Harvesting for Birds

California dairy farmers help protect thousands of tricolored blackbirds. 

California’s fertile Central Valley attracts more than 90 percent of the world’s tricolored blackbirds, an Audubon priority species that forms the largest songbird colonies in the nation. The birds prefer nesting in dense marsh foliage, where they live communally by the tens of thousands. But as farming has boomed over the past century and wetlands have been drained, the population has declined to about 260,000. Tricolors have increasingly moved into maturing wheat fields on dairy farms (the grain is fed to cows). Biologists from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Tricolored Blackbird Habitat Initiative, along with Keiller Kyle, Audubon California’s bird conservation project manager and adviser to the project, are encouraging dairy farmers to delay harvesting until the birds have successfully fledged; participants are compensated for any crop losses. Last year four dairy farmers joined, helping to protect 60,000 breeding birds.

This story originally ran in the January-February 2013 issue as "Delayed Gratification."