Sacramento Valley Rice Farmers Flock to Save Birds

More than 165 California rice growers have signed up for an innovative program to enhance bird habitat on their land. The Sacramento Valley farmers recently enrolled in a new Natural Resources Conservation Service program, operated in conjunction with conservation groups, that offers almost $3 million in incentives to the growers to manage their properties in ways that will benefit birds.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, a partnership of Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy, is helping to facilitate this project in collaboration with NRCS. The farmers come from Glenn, Colusa, Yuba, Sutter, Sacramento and Yolo counties.

“The Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program through NRCS is a huge program for us, significantly increasing the acres of farmland enrolled to improve the Valley for migratory birds and allowing California rice farmers to make a significant conservation investment,” explains Alan Forkey, Assistant State Conservationist with NRCS. “Working lands are truly the frontier for the future of protecting this state’s wildlife.”

Wetland habitat in the Central Valley has declined rapidly over the past 150 years. Less than 5 percent of the region’s original wetland habitat remains today. As the Sierra Nevada’s permanent snowpack dwindles, water supply is expected to become less reliable for people and wildlife.  This and other threats demands new collaborative approaches to farming and conservation.

Over 100 species of shorebirds, ducks and geese depend upon rice fields for part of their life cycle and survival

“Rice acts as surrogate wetland habitat for many shorebirds, ducks and geese, and is an important focus of our private lands conservation work in the region,” explains Monica Iglecia, Audubon California Shorebird Conservation Biologist. “Right now, rice represents nearly 80 percent of flooded habitat used by migratory birds in the Sacramento Valley.”

“Many people don’t associate the Central Valley with shorebirds,” says Catherine Hickey of PRBO Conservation Science and Chair of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Council. “But shorebirds aren’t just at the shore. Hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds and millions of waterfowl rely on wetlands and flooded agriculture like rice each year.”

People who farm, love nature, and enjoy hunting and bird watching share something in common – a love of the land and respect for what nature provides people and wildlife.  This voluntary partnership between conservationists and farmers is an excellent example of win-win conservation.  

More information is available at

The Sacramento Valley is designated as a site of Hemispheric Importance to shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

About Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership

The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership is collaboration among Audubon CaliforniaThe Nature Conservancy, and PRBO Conservation Science. Combining the experience and expertise of three of California's leaders in bird conservation enables the Partnership to address issues of science, habitat conservation, restoration, management, and conservation policy to ensure California can support its migratory bird populations.

About Audubon California

Audubon Californiais building a better future for Californiaby bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 50,000 members in Californiaand an affiliated 49 local Audubon chapters, Audubon Californiais a field program of the National Audubon Society. Learn more at

About PRBO Conservation Science

PRBO Conservation Science studies birds and ecosystems to improve conservation outcomes in the face of accelerating habitat loss, climate change and changes in the ocean.  Founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory, our 140 scientists work hand-in-hand with governmental and non-governmental agencies as well as private interests to ensure that every dollar invested in conservation yields the most for biodiversity and our communities.  Visit PRBO on the web at