Audubon study sees local birds particularly threatened

One-third of U.S. bird species in need of immediate conservation help are native to California, including dozens from the Bay Area, according to a study made public today bythe National Audubon Society.

The newest Audubon WatchList, compiled by the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, lists 217 imperiled birds native to the continental U.S. and Hawaii. More than 70 of those species are native to California, and 29 of those either make their homes in the Bay Area or migrate through the region seasonally, according to Golden Gate Audubon Conservation Director Eli Saddler.

The list, gathered from research and bird counts done by local Audubon chapters, including the group’s yearly Christmas bird count, details those bird species believed to be in immediate danger from habitat loss, invasive species and global warming. Audubon California Executive Director Glenn Olson called the large number of California birds on the list “both an indication of the immense size and diversity of the state’s natural environment and the significant challenges facing wildlife here.”

“This list shows that we have a lot worth protecting in California,” Olson said.

Though some species on the list are also listed as federally endangered or threatened species, the Audubon Society list includes species that may be simply of greater local concern, according to Saddler.

Audubon chapters throughout the state are pursuing programs, as well as lawsuits, to try to protect bird species considered imperiled by continued population decline, according to Saddler.

Birds, often considered a bellwether of environmental imbalance, were “impacted really heavily” by the Nov. 7 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, Saddler said. Shorebirds such as the Western snowy plover and the California clapper rail, and seabirds including the Clark’s grebe and greater and lesser scaups, were particularly affected, according to Sadler. Some either died as a direct result of oil contact, and others have been forced away from their beach habitats and food supplies, Saddler said.

Saddler said local Audubon groups have been asking local beach and shoreline management agencies to impose greater restrictions on shoreline activities in the wake of the spill, and are asking the public to refrain from activities that disturb the fragile habitats of local birds.

“We can’t go back to business as usual on our beaches and shorelines,” Saddler said, adding that conservation groups are still calculating the spill’s impact on the local ecosystem.

While an immediate impact on imperiled local bird species will be felt in the coming weeks and months, according to Saddler, “the long-term impact will take years, really, to unfold,” he said.

“Oiled species is a very stark reminder that we do have to preserve habitat,” Saddler said.

— Bay City News

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