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California PIF Launches Four New Bird Conservation Plans

By Geoff Geupel CPIF Co-Chair

At the October meeting of California Partners in Flight, participants launched new plans for the conservation of California's non-game birds. Based on current need, the following four plans encompass the following habitat types and bioregion: coastal scrub, oak woodland, grassland and the Sierra Nevada. Future plans being discussed include mixed evergreen, San Francisco Bay, and central coastal. Plans will follow the process currently underway for the Riparian Bird Conservation Plan (see below and lead article in Flight Log # 5) At the October meeting, breakout groups were formed to begin discussion of conservation issues, develop species lists and draft action plans. The outlines of these plans are detailed below and provide names of person(s) responsible and target dates of when tasks will be completed. As evident below, we still need people to help complete tasks and take the lead to put these plans together. The success of these bird conservation plans depends on the quality of information they contain, the support it has from people in the field, and the on-the-ground activities it generates. We welcome your participation and encourage your input and feedback. Species lists have been developed for the plans and will be finalized at the next CPIF meeting on March 11in Santa Nella. There, we will also begin to identify authors. The species included on the list are meant to be representative of the habitat and are not necessarily included due to their risk status or declining population. We welcome any additions or comments. Please contact either the name associated with the task or Mike Lynes (415-868-0655, mlynes at prbo dot org) with comments and additions.

Coastal Scrub Bird Conservation

Primary contact: Geoff Geupel, PRBO, 4990 Shoreline Hwy Stinson Beach, CA 94970, ggeupel@ and John C. Lovio U.S. Navy 1220 Pacific Hwy. San Diego, CA 92123, Jclovio@ cfdswest.navfac.

Introduction: Current threats to coastal scrub habitat include intense development pressure, fragmentation, fire suppression and grazing. The avifauna of coastal scrub overlaps considerably with the cis-montane California shrub communities (e.g. chaparral). More discussion is needed as to whether or not to broaden this plan to include inland shrub communities that differ both in vegetation and structure but have relatively similar bird communities and conservation issues.

Process Steps

Grassland Conservation Plan

Primary Contact:

Process Steps

Oak Woodland Bird Conservation Plan

Primary contact: Steve Zack, Wildlife Conservation Society, Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and Humboldt State University, 2218 Jessica Way, Redding CA 96002. Email:


The oak woodlands of California are habitats in peril, as are the birds tied to them. A superficial look at these woodlands throughout the Central Valley does not lend that impression, but a closer look throughout these oak forests reveals a virtual absence of regeneration. Birds are linked directly to the ecology of oak woodlands, and several species unique to California are likely to be acutely impacted by the decline of this critical habitat.

Very few seedlings, particularly of Valley Oaks and Blue Oaks, have been established in the past 125 years. The lack of regeneration is due to several factors associated with European settlement: extensive land clearing for agriculture and increasing urbanization, overgrazing, the associated invasion of weedy plants, and fire suppression. The effect today is one of old trees with virtually no seedlings or young trees to replace them.

Oaks are important to several species of birds, and vice versa. Acorns are critical foods for such species as Wood Duck, California Quail, Band-tailed Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak. Several birds, such as the Acorn Woodpecker,.Lewis' Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch, store acorns in trees for later consumption. Critical for oak regeneration (if the above problems can be surmounted) are those birds that cache acorns in the ground, thus creating the possibility of regeneration when acorns are incompletely retrieved. Clearly, the most important of these species is the Western Scrub- Jay: individuals can cache more than 5,000 acorns a year. Yellow-billed Magpies and American Crows also cache acorns in the soil. Most of these species also depend on the branches and cavities of the oaks for nest sites.

In California, the great Central Valley contains the majority of oak woodlands and most of our endemic (unique) bird species. California endemic birds include Nuttall's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse and Yellow-billed Magpie directly tied to the ecology of oak woodlands. Other endemic species such as California Towhee and Tricolored Blackbird (who forage on insects under oak trees) occur in oak woodland habitat.

Process Steps:

The "Sierra Nevada" Bird Conservation Plan

Primary contacts David F. DeSante, IBP, P.O. Box 1346, Point Reyes Station, 94956; 415-663-2051. Fax: 415-663-9482. and Diana Craig, USFS, Ecosystem Conservation Staff, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, 630 Sansome, San Francisco, CA 94111.


The montane meadows of the Sierra Nevada have been recognized as being important to resident and Neotropical-Nearctic migratory birds because they are areas of high breeding-bird densities and serve as staging grounds for molt and fat deposition for both young and adult dispersing landbirds prior to and during fall migration. In addition, livestock grazing of Sierran meadows has been identified by the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP) as a "primary negative factor affecting the viability of native Sierran land bird populations".

The first objective of the "Sierra Nevada" effort is to reduce the impacts of livestock grazing on Sierran meadows. This may be accomplished by identifying meadows to be included in a "Sierra Meadows" Important Bird Area (IBA) and developing management guidelines for the IBA on a meadow-by-meadow basis. It is hoped that over the next five years, the most important meadows for birds in the entire Sierra Nevada (on both public and private lands) can be identified and included in the IBA and that effective management guidelines for these meadows can be developed and implemented.

Process Steps:

In the first year of this work (FY-98), we will attempt to complete steps (a) and (b), and steps (c) through (g) for a number of the meadows inYosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Sequoia National Forest, and (perhaps) Sierra National Forest.

We will also recommend appropriate management guidelines for the meadows in these area to be included in the "Sierra Meadows" IBA, and work to develop a strategy whereby these actions and guidelines can be implemented and their effects monitored. In effect, this first year is intended to be a pilot year to test the overall strategy, to develop a potential protocol and assemble potential management guidelines, and to test field methodolgies. It is expected that the primary focus of the management guidelines will address livestock grazing, but forestry practices (including timber harvest, fire suppression, and insect abatement), water management practices, and recreation practices will also be addressed as appropriate. So far, Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have joined as partners, each contributing in-kind support in the way of GIS data and support and housing. Sequoia National Forest will also likely contribute similar in-kind support. Additional support is being sought from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California State Department of Fish and Game.

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California Bird Species of Special Concern:

Identifying Declining Taxa

By Kevin Hunting, CPIF Coordinator

California Partners in Flight (CPIF) is dedicated to identifying population trends and sources of decline for neotropical migrant birds and implementing programs designed to stem these declines. The first step in this process, identifying trends and population decline factors, is challenging in that basic ecological information, including current distribution, demographics, and habitat relationships, are not known for many taxa. This information is essential for developing effective recovery strategies or large-scale conservation planning efforts.

Given the realities of funding for census work and applied research, and the sheer number of declining bird taxa, basic distribution and abundance information will likely remain lacking despite the need to move forward with agendas for addressing decline. Facing the specter of growing numbers of declining bird taxa and static or decreasing funding, how can CPIF, resource agencies and others with conservation objectives document and monitor California's declining bird populations? Furthermore, how do we focus research and conservation resources on those species needing it the most? These questions formed the basis for what is now the California Department of Fish and Game's (CDFG) California Bird Species of Special Concern project.

In 1978, the CDFG recognized the need for documenting declines in non-game bird species not protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), California Endangered Species Act (CESA), or other regulatory mechanisms with the publication of the first Bird Species of Special Concern in California. The goal of this document, prepared under contract to the CDFG by J.V. Remsen of Western Field Ornithologists, Inc., was to Òhelp land management agencies, developers, landowners and the general public take action to protect declining bird populations before they become endangeredÓ.

The list placed 61 bird species in one of three ÒList CategoriesÓ depending on the degree of perceived threat: Highest Priority, those facing immediate extirpation in California if current (1978) population trends continue (14 species); Second Priority, those whose populations are ÒdefinitelyÓ declining but still large enough in California that Òdanger is not immediateÓ(19 species); and Third Priority, those species whose populations are not declining but whose California distribution is sufficiently small to warrant consideration (28 species). Little information was available for most species appearing on this first list and inclusion on the list or assignment to a category was often necessarily subjective.

While the original list served a valuable purpose, it became clear as the number of declining species grew and listing under CESA became less frequent and more difficult to achieve, the Bird Species of Special Concern project would have to expand to meet growing monitoring, research and conservation needs.

The current California Bird Species of Special Concern project seeks to build on the original effort and on important work completed in Florida, Colorado, Arizona and by Partners in Flight to document declines and develop priorities for management and conservation of these taxa. The project began in 1995 with the following goals:

  1. Set science-based research, management and funding priorities for declining or vulnerable nongame, non-listed California bird species;
  2. Provide guidance to state, federal and local government for defining locally and regionally ÒsensitiveÓ species under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to effect pro-active conservation measures before listing as threatened or endangered is necessary;
  3. Stimulate research on the status, distribution, demography, threats, decline factors, and systematics of each taxon and;
  4. Identify species that may warrant listing as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) or federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The current Species of Special Concern project goes beyond a simple list by combining current and historic range and distribution information, analysis of current threats, and a description of each species' life history attributes into a framework for directing prioritized conservation and research efforts. The process of developing the ÒlistÓ included nominating species, developing specific criteria which would ultimately define special concern bird taxa, applying these criteria to the nomination list, and documenting the biological and ecological attributes of the resulting taxa. However, prior to working through this process, we had to decide which criteria were both measurable and applicable and decide the appropriate taxonomic level for treatment in this document.

We decided on a series of biological, population/range and threat criteria in an attempt to capture the important factors directly, indirectly or potentially influencing declines. We also decided that sufficient information was available to warrant treatment at the population as well as subspecies and species levels. This is an important distinction when considering taxa such as the Cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus sandiegense), which has a coastal population which has exhibited declines apparently independent of the remainder of the subspecies range.

Currently, 86 of the 210 taxa nominated and evaluated against our criteria have been selected as Species of Special Concern. Six of the 86 taxa (Common loon [Gavia immer], Harlequin duck [Histrionicus histrionicus], Barrow's goldeneye [Bucephala islandica], Harris' Hawk [Parabuteo unicinctus], Yellow rail [Coturnicops noveboracensis], and Sharp-tailed grouse [Pedioecetes phasianellus]) are presumed extirpated as breeders in California. Inclusion of taxa which are presumed extirpated or are harvested in California (Ruffed grouse [Bonasa umbellus] and Sage grouse [Centrocercus urophasianus]) continues to be a source of debate among biologists. We believe the Species of Special Concern designation provides for consideration of extirpated taxa that otherwise might receive little or no consideration within current regulatory structures.

The administrative draft document is now undergoing a rigorous review and we anticipate a working draft will be released for public review in the spring of 1998. The California Species of Special Concern effort has benefitted tremendously from the involvement of many people in the CPIF community. Indeed, the final document should supply the basis for documenting decline factors and threats for many species considered in the CPIF Bird Conservation Plans and help define priority species for future planning initiatives.

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Producing the Riparian Bird Conservation Plan: The Next Step

By Geoff Geupel, CPIF Co-Chair

On March 12, 1998 in Santa Nella California (see meeting notice below) biologists, land mangers, agency representatives and any one other interested parties will meet to begin drafting the final Riparian Bird Conservation Plan.

Biologists representing each species and most bioregions will develop matrices to identify commonality amongst species and regions. We will develop measurable state-wide biological objectives based on the best current information. The plan will include current and historical range maps (click here to see the range and study site maps stored on PRBO's website), Important Birds Areas, restoration recommendations, acquisition recommendations, guidelines for developing and mantaining demonstration sites, species specific as well as community based best management practices and recommendations for adaptive management.

To be effective, the plan will be an ongoing project, with new information incorporated continually. We hope in the near future to substantially increase our knowledge of current range and add sites that are important source populations (Important Bird Areas). Regular updates of information on the web and yearly updates of the plans will keep the conservation efforts current and allow them to adapt to changing landscapes.

We urge everyone to become involved in this process. If you have any relevant information on the following species, please contact the appropriate author below (more contact information is available via the web page at or the plan coordinator Tom Gardali (email: tgardali phone: (415) 868-0655).

PRBO staff will take the lead in authoring the final plan.

Riparian Species List

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Cowbird Conference: Is Control Worth It?

by Jim Greaves CPIF Co-Chair.

From 23-25 October 1997, the Research Working Group of California Partners in Flight organized and conducted a national conference in Sacramento, California. Sixty-five papers and posters were presented on ÒResearch and Management of the Brown-headed Cowbird in Western and Eastern LandscapesÓ. At the end of the conference, about sixty participants met to discuss cowbird control.

Participants agreed that the methods of control have been well-researched and trap designs are highly refined and adequately adaptable; yet, there still exists a need for more scientifically based decisions regarding the appropriateness of cowbird control in all situations. A protocol is necessary to determine the levels, intensity, and longevity of trapping programs. This is the primary action item to be addressed in the coming months.

Also, many ongoing trapping programs have little or no host benefit assessment: nest monitoring and intensive surveys would allow researchers to assess parasitism and host productivity.

With all the birds-in-the-hand available, there seems to be little or no real cowbird research conducted on removed birds. Every year, thousands of dead birds are merely thrown away; data on these birds can and should be assessed.

Finally, after trapping begins, local cowbird age classes may be dramatically affected. This may have negative impacts on potential hosts. It was also speculated that populations of trap-shy cowbirds may evolve.

The next steps are complex, but need immediate attention:

Editors note: In response to closing recommendations at the conference, a National Cowbird Advisory Council has recently been formed.

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Riparian Habitat Joint Venture News

Thirty-nine participants met at the Doubletree Inn, Sacramento on October 22, 1997 for the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV) technical committee meeting. The meeting was opened by the new RHJV coordinator Lyann Comrack and included a discussion of the Conservation Plans and introductions to new personnel involved with RHJV.

Featured speaker Geoff Geupel of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory opened with a slide presentation and discussion on the Riparian Bird Conservation Plan (Plans) process. The Plans were conceptualized at the Partners in Flight/RHJV meeting at Tiburon, California, July 18, 1997. Fourteen riparian-associated bird species were selected to serve as indicators of different seral stages/ecological aspects of riparian communities. Species accounts which emphasize conservation are being prepared for each of the fourteen species using new, site-specific information for California. Some of these data are as recent as 1996; other data sets are about 3-5 years old. A strong feature of these Plans is the inclusion of historical range, current distribution and abundance maps; bird species richness and productivity indices will also be included as overlays. Using Song Sparrow (SOSP) as an example, Geoff pointed out the lack of recent breeding records in the lower Sacramento River area although the species still breeds in the upper Sacramento and in the vicinity of the Cosumnes. The next step will be to identify overlapping species distributions and habitat requirements and look for commonalties. Habitat protection and restoration goals will follow and will be melded into the overarching Riparian Conservation Plan.

RHJV has undergone several notable personnel changes over the last year. Lyann Comrack, an Associate Wildlife Biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, is our new RHJV Coordinator. Lyann was instrumental in the early development of the RHJV and returns to the program fresh from service with the Peace Corps and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Bob Barnes, another of the RHJV founders, returns to us as National Audubon Society's RHJV liaison. With his particular skills in education and communication, Bob will be focusing much of his attention on development of an appropriate outreach program for the RHJV. He may be reached at Audubon California, P.O. Box 953, Weldon, CA 93283; telephone (760) 378-2531; email: bbarnes@

The meeting closed with the group deciding to move forward on several action items: a) draft Bird Conservation Plans will be presented to the public at the March, 1998 Partners in Flight meeting at Los Banos, California; b) a two-day work shop to synthesize the species information into an overarching Riparian Conservation Plan is also in the planning stages; c) the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge complex will also be honored during the March meeting for their excellent work in riparian community restoration. Contact the Lyann for more information.

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New CPIF Co-Chairs Elected

by Daniel Evans, PRBO

At the October 22 CPIF meeting in Sacramento, elections were held for California's Co-Chair positions. I am happy to announce that Geoff Geupel, PRBO's Terrestrial Program Director, and Jim Greaves, representing National Audubon Society, were elected as the new PIF Co-Chairs. After five years in the position, I am happy to turn the position over to such capable biologists as Geoff and Jim.

I would also like to thank everyone involved for the wonderful color print that was presented to me at the end of the last meeting. The Purple Tanagers hang in a place of honor and remind me of all the wonderful individuals that work together through PIF to protect migratory birds throughout our state.

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Meetings and Notices

Next CPIF Meeting

Next CPIF and Riparian Habitat Joint Venture is March 11 to the 14th in Santa Nella, California. Hosted by the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Meeting Logistics: There are no pre-registation fees. Rooms are reserved at the Ramada Inn (off I 5 in Santa Nella)(209) 826-4444 until March 4th. Individuals need to reserve rooms by phone and say they are with "Partners in Flight". The Ramada Inn will provide conference rooms. For more information about accomodations and local activities, contact Karine Sande at the San Luis NWR Complex, PO BOX 2176, Los Banos, CA 93635. Phone (209) 826-3508.

Next WWG Meeting

The next Western Working Group, Partners In Flight meeting will be held 25-27 February 1998 in Henderson, Nevada (Las Vegas area). There's also an optional field trip on the 28th to the Lower Grand Canyon (limit 25 people).

California Partners in Flight now has a Listserver

Subscribe to the CPIF Listserver CPIF has created a list-server, an electronic mailing list, to facilitate communication among members of the community. To subscribe, visit the web page at and follow the directions.

IBP bird-banding course

Space is still available in The Institute for Bird Populations' seven-day, introductory bird-banding course in Sierra City, July 18-25. Contact Bander Training, The Institute for Bird Populations, P.O. Box 1346, Point Reyes Station 94956; 415-663-2051. Fax: 415-663-9482;

PRBO Monitoring Course

The Point Reyes Bird Observatory will hold its annual monitoring of Neotropical Landbirds Training Course at its Palomarin Field Station April 20-24, 1998. For more information, visit http://www.prbo. org/prbo/Fldclass.html. Contact Geoff Geupel or Anne King at (415) 868-0655, fax: (415) 868-9363, or email: ggeupel at prbo dot org

Mono Lake Breeding Bird Count

Saturday, June 13, 1998. For eleven of the last fifteen years, we have conducted a breeding bird count at Mono Lake in eastern California. Our area (the Christmas count circle) is centered in Lee Vining. This includes much of the western shore of Mono Lake, as well as parts of Lundy and Lee Vining Canyons. Participants need to have a working knowledge of common California birds, and bring food, water and a clipboard. A spotting scope and 4WD vehicles could be useful. If you plan to attend, please RSVP at least 1-2 weeks before June 13.

The Identification Guide to North American Birds

by Peter Pyle is now available. This edition contains new information on identification, geographic variation, molt, ageing, and sexing lanbirds in the hand and in the field. Over 395 species covered, including sections on near-passerines, owls, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds. List Price: 34.90 plus shipping, handling, and tax for CA residents. Discount for multiple purchases. Send orders to Slate Creek Press, PO Box 219, Bolinas, CA 94924 or call (415) 868-1221 ext. 21. For more ordering information, you can vist

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Partners on the Web

California Partners in Flight: this is the official CalPIF home page.
California Dept. of Fish & Game
Nongame Birds Office, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone: (916) 653-7203.
Insitute for Bird Populations
PO Box 1346, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956. Phone: (415) 663-2051. Email:
National Audubon Society:
Point Reyes Bird Observatory
Terrestrial Research, 4990 Shoreline Hwy., Stinson Beach, CA 94970.

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Design Credits:

Flight Log Number 6, Winter 1998 was edited by Mike Lynes and Geoff Geupel. Designed by Grant Ballard and Mike Lynes. Produced on the web by Mike Lynes

We would like to thank the following sponsors: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Winifred and Harry B. Allen Foundation, Chevron Corporation, and the Shell Oil Company Foundation.

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Point Reyes Bird Observatory
Copyright 1998