Salton Sea

Birds of the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in the Western United States.

More than 400 species of birds make regular use of the Salton Sea, and it has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area of global significance. As it exists now, the Sea:

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, an estimated 25-90% of the North American population of Eared Grebes (1 to 3 million) overwintering, or occurring during late winter, on the open water of the Sea (or in nearby impoundments) in any given year (Shuford et al. 2000, Patten et al. 2003).
  • Approximately 50% of the Pacific Flyway population of Ruddy Ducks in migration/winter (https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Regions/6/Salton-Sea-Birds/Salton-Sea-Bird-Species).
  • An estimated 30% of North American population American White Pelicans (Shuford et al. 2000) during winter.
  • Significant interior wintering populations for Brown Pelicans and Western Grebes.
  • The largest interior wintering site for Western Snowy Plovers (Patten et al. 2004, Thomas et al. 2012).
  • One of the most productive nesting areas in the interior West for several colonial waterbird species, including Double-crested Cormorant (until colony abandonment – see Riesz 2014) and large waders (Molina and Strum 2004), Caspian Tern and edge-of-range populations of Gull-billed Tern and Laughing Gull (Molina 2004, Molina and Shuford 2013).
  • Threatened or Endangered populations of Yuma Ridgway’s Rail and the California Black Rail in wetlands around and nearby the Sea (Laymon et al. 1990, Riesz 2011)

Click here to explore the Important Bird Area site profile. eBird observations can also be viewed here.

As the Salton Sea dries, salinity and selenium increase, depleting food resources and posing health risks to birds. There have been several major die-offs of birds there, with major recent events including 150,000 Eared Grebes in 1992, 9,000 White Pelicans in 1996, and more than 11,000 waterbirds in 1998. BirdLife International has named the Salton Sea an “IBA in Danger,” a designation reserved for habitat areas at severe risk.

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