The beautiful Lazuli Bunting is a one of the more striking birds typically seen during the Southern Californian summer. Sandy DeSimone, director of research and education at Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County, looks forward to seeing the sky blue beauties flit about the coastal sage scrub landscape of the property.
“I don’t usually need binoculars because they are so bright blue,” says Sandy. “Even if I don’t see them, their song is so distinctive that I know one is out there.”
But sadly the species is missing. As is the Hooded Oriole, the Warbling Vireo, and others normally seen on the sanctuary.
Bird banders have run a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program at Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary since 1999. The program, which is run across the globe, helps define and record bird populations. The goal is to take this information and help apply it to conservation. Starr MAPS volunteers have noticed a steady decline in the number of species captured since 2013, about when the California drought began altering the landscape of Starr Ranch.
“There is an alarming number of dead and dying oak trees,” explains Sandy. “And we know this is caused by drought, not pest or disease.”
To help capture the effects of drought on birds beyond the property lines of the sanctuary, Sandy is training Audubon chapter members to run phenology surveys across the state. In addition, chapters are being trained on how to advocate for drought policy that is good for birds. This network has been vital in speaking to elected officials about both federal and state legislation.
“California bird lovers need to think about what we can do for birds during drought years,” says Sandy. “Whether that be at a policy level or by simply rethinking how we use water.”