Salton Sea

Audubon California is helping shape the future of this remarkable place for birds.

White Pelicans at the Salton Sea. Photo: Robin L

The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in North America and is in danger of losing its ecological value. If it does, we will lose a vital part of the Pacific Flyway and face a toxic dust bowl that will threaten public health for more than a million Californians.

As part of the Colorado River Delta, the sea filled and dried for thousands of years prior to its current, 35-mile-long incarnation, which came into existence as the result of a massive flood of the Colorado River in 1905. The 350-square-mile sea has partially replaced wetland habitat lost to agricultural and urban conversion in the Colorado River Delta, California’s coast, and the San Joaquin Valley.

The sea is a globally significant Important Bird Area. For more than a century, the sea has served as a major nesting, wintering, and stopover site for millions of birds of more than 400 species. Today, tiny Eared Grebes winter by the thousands in rafts far out on its surface. American White Pelicans roost on mudflats and fish for tilapia in its shallows.

Recently, its water level dropped to the point that colonial seabirds began abandoning nesting sites en masse in 2013, and shallow, marshy habitat areas at the sea’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish, particularly at the south end. And in 2017, inputs of Colorado River water that have been maintaining a minimum sea level are scheduled to end, as more water is transferred from local agricultural uses to urban uses on the coast. As less water flows into the sea, it will shrink considerably, becoming more saline and eventually inhospitable to birds, fish, and insects.

Audubon California has the opportunity to help address some of the immense challenges of the Salton Sea. 

Birds of the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Birds of the Salton Sea

More than 400 species of birds come to the Salton Sea in California.

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Crisis looming at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Crisis at the Salton Sea

Water losses could soon present major problems for birds at the Salton Sea.

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Audubon's role at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Audubon at the Salton Sea

Audubon is speaking out for the birds in this troubled ecosystem.

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New online map for birding the Salton Sea
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Explore the birds of the Salton Sea

New interactive map shows you the best places to view birds at the Salton Sea.

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Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea

Research about how much habitat -- and what kind -- birds are using at the Salton Sea should guide restoration.

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Local students help migratory shorebirds of the Salton Sea
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Local students help migratory shorebirds of the Salton Sea

San Diego Audubon Society recently partnered with an elementary school to educate students about birds that rely on the Salton Sea.

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More about the Salton Sea

Encouraging the state to keep its promise on the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Encouraging the state to keep its promise on the Salton Sea

As the state tries to find a way to avoid an ecological disaster at the Salton Sea, local residents raise their voices.

Stop calling the Salton Sea an accident
Salton Sea

Stop calling the Salton Sea an accident

When we describe the Salton Sea as an accident, we not only ignore the truth, but we also undercut the severity of the predicament of the people in nearby communities.

Salton Sea Sunday campaign seeks to raise community awareness
Salton Sea

Salton Sea Sunday campaign seeks to raise community awareness

Audubon California partners with faith-based groups to reach people who live in communities around the Salton Sea about issues related to the shrinking lake.

David Yarnold op-ed: Saline lakes are drying up across the West — and putting birds at serious risk

Audubon President David Yarnold writes today in the Los Angeles Times about how short-sighted management of water in the arid West is putting birds -- and people -- at risk. Speaking about the shrinking saline lakes -- such as the Salton Sea and the Great Salt Lake -- he notes that birds are incredibly reliant on these ecosystems that have been increasingly destabilized by diversions.

"Because water birds in the West depend on the region’s entire network of salt lakes, these declines could be catastrophic for the global populations of some species. For instance, 99% of the North American population of eared grebes — small waterfowl distinguished by bright red eyes that are framed by sassy tufts of golden feathers — depends on western saline lakes to survive their long migrations. What’s more, dams, diversions, extended drought and water demand along the Colorado River have devastated cottonwood-willow forests and other native river habitat. While this riverbank habitat accounts for less than 5% of the regional landscape, it supports more than 40% of all bird species in the Southwest."

Conservation groups demand to be included in high-level Salton Sea talks
Salton Sea

Conservation groups demand to be included in high-level Salton Sea talks

Audubon California joined with Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club to ensure that public health and environmental issues are addressed.

Defending our California desert national monuments
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Defending our California desert national monuments

Community turns out in Indio in support of three area national monuments under review by the Administration.

Asthma on the rise around the Salton Sea

It's not just birds that are being harmed by the changes at the Salton Sea. Asthma is becoming epidemic.

Bird populations crashing at the Salton Sea

Excellent reporting in the Desert Sun about how observers are starting to see dramatic declines in bird populations at the Salton Sea. Time is running out to fix things.

Frank Ruiz: The fate of birds and people at the Salton Sea are linked

In an opinion piece in the Desert Sun, Audubon California's Frank Ruiz notes that issues of public health and bird habitat at the Salton Sea are linked:

When people argue that we must choose between habitat for birds at the Salton Sea and efforts to control dust, I am reminded of my father and his coworkers, and their small bird in the cage (in the mines). At the Salton Sea, when we ensure that birds survive, we will also ensure that people can thrive as well.

New online map for birding the Salton Sea

Despite its many conservation challenges, the Salton Sea remains a terrific place to view birds. More then 400 species can be spotted there, including a number of rarities. Check out the map, then get out there.

How you can help, right now