The rare Tricolored Blackbird needs our help to survive.
This rare bird needs our help to survive. Photo: Photo by Martin Meyers
The Tricolored Blackbird is a remarkable bird that needs our help to survive. Found almost exclusively in California, its breeding colonies can sometimes grow to more than 20,000 birds, often all settled into a single 10-acre field or wetland to raise their young. While similar to the more widespread Red-winged Blackbird, male Tricolored Blackbirds are distinguished by their red shoulder patch with a bright white bar.
In the 19th Century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks were described as so numerous “as to darken the sky.” Since then, the population has declined from several million to fewer than 180,000 today. Over just the last 70 years, the Tricolored Blackbird population has decreased by more than 80%. As a result of recent population declines and ongoing threats, the species was listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act in April 2018.
The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of wetland and nearby feeding habitats along the coast and in southern California and the Central Valley is the main issue. With the loss of native habitat, the species has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in grain fields associated with dairies. A real dilemma develops because Tricolored young typically have not yet left the nest before the time farmers harvest their crop, and harvesting destroys Tricolored Blackbird nests and young.
Audubon California is working closely with landowners and its partners in the Tricolored Blackbird Working Group to protect this species across California. The Working Group is a collaborative alliance of farmers, agricultural associations, governmental agencies, and environmental organizations that have all recognized the importance of a multi-faceted and cooperative approach to promote the long-term persistence of the Tricolored Blackbird. The Working Group strives to reverse the population decline of this species and address threats to its survival.
The efforts of the Working Group are guided by the Tricolored Blackbird Conservation Plan that lays out a strategy to boost populations through long-term conservation planning and short-term action-oriented intervention. Specifically, the Plan commits stakeholders to implement: (1) habitat conservation projects to benefit the species; (2) a research program to more thoroughly understand the species’ life history; (3) a monitoring program to effectively document population trends and distribution; and (4) an outreach and education program to enhance public and private landowner awareness, and to build public support for conservation.
Audubon California has been leading the coordination of the working group’s efforts since 2011. For more information about these efforts or how you can help, please contact Tricolored Blackbird Conservation Project Manager Xerónimo Castañeda at email@example.com.
Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda shows off a great Tricolored Blackbird colony in the Central Valley. Learn more about our work to protect this great species here.
Our own Xerónimo Castañeda captured these shots from the road during his recent searches through the Central Valley looking for Tricolored Blackbirds. Learn more about our work to save Tricolored Blackbirds here.
Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda takes us up close to a Tricolored Blackbird colony in Merced County. In just a couple of weeks, the number of colonies in the southern part of the Central Valley has spiked. And all these colonies need to be protected.
Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda talks about the beginning of the 2019 Tricolored Blackbird breeding season. He even talks about finding his first found colony of the season. This is an important time for the Tricolored Blackbird, as it is now listed as Threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. That said, we still need to identify the colonies and do everything we can to protect them. Learn more about our efforts to save this terrific bird here.
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