In an effort to safeguard one of California’s most vulnerable birds, Audubon California this spring is renewing its effort to partner with farmers in the Central Valley and Southern California protect breeding colonies of rare Tricolored Blackbirds.

With the loss of native habitat, the Tricolored Blackbird has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in grain fields. Because Tricolored Blackbirds nest in just a few huge colonies, a farmer harvesting a field unknowingly might wipe out a huge portion of the entire species’ young in just a few minutes. Working through the California Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wildlife Initiative for Tricolored Blackbird Habitat, Audubon California negotiates with farmers to delay the harvesting of these fields, compensating the farmers for the loss of value of their crops that might result from the delay.

“Agricultural land is critical to the preservation of species and we couldn’t be happier with our partnership with NRCS,” says Rodd Kelsey, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon California. “Last year agreements resulted in the protection of the breeding production of at least 50,000 birds, which constitutes more than 10 percent of the species’ global population.” 

In the early 20th Century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks numbered in the millions, but since then the population has declined to fewer than 400,000 today. The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of wetlands and grasslands in southern California and the Central Valley is the main issue. Audubon California in 2011 conducted a comprehensive survey of Tricolored Blackbirds and found that the species had declined more than 30 percent in the last three years. A near endemic bird, ninety-five percent of the world’s Tricolored Blackbirds live inCalifornia. The report noted that large breeding colonies on private farms continue to be lost as fields are harvested before young birds have fledged.

The NRCS initiative has been crucial in protecting these vulnerable nesting colonies.

“Because the nesting dates are in early spring, typical harvest of silage crops follows shortly after. NRCS developed this special habitat initiative as part of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to compensate farmers for a portion of the foregone income—a result of delaying harvest until young birds have fledged,” said Jennifer Cavanaugh, NRCS State Wetlands Biologist. “We work closely in partnership with Audubon California to ensure the parameters of the program provided the necessary habitat.”

Audubon California is also working to raise awareness and funds with its second annual $5/5 Birds campaign. The campaign received its name becauseAudubonconservationists calculated that it only costs one dollar to save one Tricolored Blackbird. So, for each $5 donated, five birds can be saved.

“We look forward to growing our relationship with California farmers,” explains Kelsey. “Blackbirds are only one of many threatened species we can protect.” 

More information on Tricolored Blackbirds available at 

About Audubon California

Audubon California is building a better future fo California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. Audubon California is a field program ofAudubon, which has more than 60,000 members in California and an affiliated 48 local chapters dedicated to protecting birds, wildlife and the habitats that support them.

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