Some birds were no-shows in this year’s annual SF count

The loss of our local California Quail is even more concerning given how common they used to be in San Francisco.

A Hooded Merganser dines on a crayfish in Golden Gate Park during the recent annual Christmas Bird Count. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A Hooded Merganser dines on a crayfish in Golden Gate Park during the recent annual Christmas Bird Count. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Some birds were no-shows in this year’s annual SF count

Recently, Noreen Weeden, a volunteer director with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, heard an old, familiar call: “chi-ca-go!” The clatter and clucking came from six California quail, a plump, ground-dwelling and charismatic bird that was once ubiquitous in San Francisco. Weeden recorded their presence near Skyline College in San Bruno, and noted that the area is surrounded with coyote brush and lupin.

“It was really exciting to see them,” she told me. “I remember when there were quail in the Presidio and in Golden Gate Park. It’s sad to notice over time that a species is disappearing.”

Weeden, a regular participant in the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, has witnessed changes in The City’s bird populations over time. The annual event is an opportunity to bring awareness to species in decline and celebrate populations that are recovering. The 130 volunteers participating in San Francisco’s Christmas Bird Count spotted a locally rare rock sandpiper at Heron’s Head Park, the black, velvety wings of a scarlet tanager near the San Francisco Zoo, and a long-eared owl in Pacifica.

The Rock Sandpiper is one of the rare birds seen during the bird count. This one was near Hunter’s Point/Bayview. ( Peter Seubert/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The Rock Sandpiper is one of the rare birds seen during the bird count. This one was near Hunter’s Point/Bayview. ( Peter Seubert/Special to S.F. Examiner)

But there were some notable absences from the count. Volunteers did not find any wood ducks or Ridgway’s rails, a bird that’s in danger of extinction. And, although Weeden spotted the bobbing plumes of California quail in San Bruno, the designated bird of both the state and The City remains locally extinct within San Francisco limits.

A variety of ducks in Golden Gate Park. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A variety of ducks in Golden Gate Park. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“Every Christmas bird count we try to find whether that little quail is coming back,” Pam Young, the executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, told me. “To lose it as our common neighbor is very concerning.”

The loss of our local California quail is even more concerning given how common they used to be in San Francisco. In July 1846, Edward Cleveland Kemble, the editor of The City’s first newspaper, the California Star, recalled hearing innumerable quail in the dense brush that used to cover the corner of Jackson Street and Grant Avenue. In 1902, ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey wrote that the “brushy parts of Golden Gate Park abound with quail, and from the benches one can watch the squads of plump hen-like creatures as they move about with stately tread or stand talking socially in low monosyllables.”

Today, these squads are gone. The call of “chi-ca-go” no longer echoes on city streets and in parks. San Francisco has lost a long-time resident, and future generations could forget it even existed at all. This is how species inch closer and closer to extinction.

American Avocets seen at Pier 94, a former dump site that volunteers from the Golden Gate Audubon Society have restored as flourishing wetlands. (Bob Gunderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

American Avocets seen at Pier 94, a former dump site that volunteers from the Golden Gate Audubon Society have restored as flourishing wetlands. (Bob Gunderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Thankfully, the Christmas Bird Count offers an annual opportunity to remember and reorganize to support the habitats birds need. Volunteers have reported increased bird abundance in the restored areas of El Polín Spring in the Presidio, Heron’s Head Park and the bison paddocks in Golden Gate Park, according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society. At Pier 94, trash cleanup and invasive species removal has brought back the Black oystercatcher — a bird not spotted in San Francisco for years.

“There is hope for restoring the California quail and other species,” Weeden told me. “Plants that were here historically are beautiful and they function for the animals — they provide food and a place to nest and rest in. It’s a way to encourage a variety of species in The City.”

A Red-tailed Hawk observed near Hunter’s Point/Bayview. ( Peter Seubert/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A Red-tailed Hawk observed near Hunter’s Point/Bayview. ( Peter Seubert/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A broader effort among San Franciscans to plant native plant species could help invite old friends, such as the California quail, and other wildlife back to our city. There are opportunities to green our own sidewalks and backyards, as well as urge city leaders to make space for more native habitats. Keeping cats indoors and dogs on leashes near sensitive habitats also creates a safer environment for threatened birds and mammals.

A Hermit Thrush in Golden Gate Park. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A Hermit Thrush in Golden Gate Park. ( Evleen Anderson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“The quail are nearby and would love to come back,” Young told me. “Encourage everyone to think about choosing native plants instead of non-native plants and you’d be amazed about what an invitation that becomes. The birds will just show up.”

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

Bay Area Newssan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Second grader Genesis Ulloa leads students in an after-school community hub in a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF parents face school year with hope, trepidation and concern

‘Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it’

Health care workers in the intensive care unit at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, with Alejandro Balderas, a 44-year-old patient who later died. Even in California, a state with a coronavirus vaccination rate well above average, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. (Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times)
Why COVID took off in California, again

‘The good news is: The vaccines are working’

Lake Oroville stood at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
A kayaker on the water at Lake Oroville, which stands at 33 percent full and 40 percent of historical average when this photograph was taken on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Oroville, Calif. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Tribune News Service)
Facing ‘dire water shortages,’ California bans Delta pumping

By Rachel Becker CalMatters In an aggressive move to address “immediate and… Continue reading

Most Read