Grant Supports Imperiled Tricolored Blackbird

Jamie JohansenAg Group, Conservation, dairy farming, NRCS

stelprdb1268495The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) teamed with Audubon California and the Western United Dairymen organizations to announce an innovative new conservation project to boost habitat and outreach work for the threatened Tricolored Blackbird. The partnership was announced at an event held at the Sacramento Zoo, which has been collecting donations to help the struggling bird.

“We are excited and energized by this new opportunity to both protect a sensitive species, native to California, and increase sustainability for California’s dairy industry,” said NRCS State Conservationist Carlos Suarez. “Both the species and the industry have much to gain from this new partnership.”

This project will provide $1.1 million to address factors that challenge dairy farmers and threaten Tricolored Blackbird populations, with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the species from extinction. In addition to using working lands programs and wetland easements to protect and increase habitat, an educational campaign will help increase awareness of farmers’ role in saving the species in the San Joaquin valley.

Western United Dairymen, Dairy Cares and California Farm Bureau are partners on outreach efforts for farmers that will begin next week with workshops to identify and protect the birds.

Tricolored Blackbirds historically nested in vast wetlands of the Central Valley, but as that habitat has declined, the birds have established large nesting colonies in triticale, the plant that dairymen feed their cows. Unfortunately, harvest season coincides with the birds’ nesting season. When these fields are harvested before young birds have fledged, thousands of eggs and nestlings can be lost. In recent years, Audubon California has partnered with the NRCS and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to support farmers who delay harvests to allow the young birds to fledge. This new grant takes those partnerships to a whole new level.

In addition to delayed harvest the new partnership will work to entice the birds to nearby wetland easements where they will be able to nest without creating problems for the farmers. Selected easements will be supplied with water and planted with crops preferred by tricolored blackbirds.

A survey of Tricolored Blackbirds completed last year showed that the bird’s has declined 44 percent since 2011, prompting the California Department of Fish and Game to approve an emergency listing under the state Endangered Species Act earlier this year.