Birds are major part of California’s natural legacy. The state hosts more than 600 different species of birds, and is a major stop on the Pacific Flyway, a sort of migratory freeway for birds between Alaska and Patagonia. Millions of these birds land in the San Francisco Bay-Delta to refuel for their journeys, breed, or spend the winter. Californians have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to maintain the conditions in the Bay-Delta that support these birds.
Now the Bay-Delta system is in trouble. Tremendous demand for water – as well as drought – is causing shortages, legal restrictions, and environmental damage. Lawmakers are considering massive changes to the system to improve water supply and improve conditions for imperiled wildlife.
We must protect our substantial investments in Bay-Delta bird habitat and honor this key aspect of our natural legacy.
Any planning efforts around the Delta should include as a central principle no net loss of migratory bird habitat.
What’s at stake for birds in the Bay-Delta
Today, less than 10% of the Bay-Delta’s original wetland and cottonwood willow habitats remain. Many birds have declined dramatically, and now there are at least 22 bird species from the Bay-Delta listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern – along with many others whose populations are dramatically reduced. A few of these are the American White Pelican, Western Snowy Plover, Tule White-fronted Goose, Northern Harrier, Western Burrowing Owl, California Black Rail, Greater Sandhill Crane, and the Tricolored Blackbird.
Nevertheless, the Bay-Delta remains critically important for migratory birds, supporting more than 200 different species. The San Francisco Bay Estuary, including the Delta, is the only site along the Pacific Flyway where close to a million shorebirds have been counted in a single day, and it hosts more shorebirds than all other coastal California estuaries combined. Up to 50% of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating or wintering waterfowl (as much as 20% of the North American population) depend on habitats in the Bay-Delta. It is the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.
Audubon California has identified 18 Important Bird Areas in the Bay-Delta region. These places provide essential habitat for breeding, wintering, and migrating birds. The increasing demand for water from the Bay-Delta system has the potential of seriously harming these critical bird habitat areas.
A future for birds in the Bay-Delta
If we want to adequately honor our investments in Bay-Delta habitat and honor our state’s natural legacy, we need to take steps to ensure that upgrades to the Bay-Delta system result in no net loss of migratory bird habitat. We can accomplish this by:
- Ensuring that migratory birds are incorporated into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan
- Supporting the Delta Blue Ribbon Commission Delta Vision recommendations
- Working with private landowners whose farms and ranches support birds
- Passing a comprehensive water bond such as Senate Bill 735
How you can help, right now
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