Thursday, November 29, 2007

50 Bay Area bird species placed on national watch list

Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly one-third of the nation's bird species are in need of immediate help or they could disappear forever, according to two leading conservation organizations that for the first time have joined to produce a national "watch list" of winged wildlife.
Of the 217 bird species placed on the list by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, 50 are found in the Bay Area. That includes the California clapper rails nesting above tidal marshes, coastal sooty shearwaters and Western sandpipers that run on sandy beaches.

Also on the list are Clark's grebes, sanderlings, snowy plovers, black turnstones and rare marbled murrelets. Those species are among the nearly 2,700 birds that have been killed or injured by toxic fuel since a spill in San Francisco Bay three weeks ago.
"These imperiled birds are sending us a message that the environment we share with them is in trouble. When we improve habitat, the birds improve. If we damage habitat, they decline," said John Flicker, president of the 115-year-old National Audubon Society, which advocates for the roughly 700 breeding species found in the United States.
"For watch list birds, the clock is ticking. Many will slide into extinction if we don't take action," he said.
Some of the most serious threats to America's birds are the harmful effects of invasive species, such as cowbirds that take over nests; development and agricultural expansion that destroy feeding and breeding territory; and global warming, which raises sea levels and changes ocean conditions, according to bird scientists.
Of the 217 birds on the watch list, 98 are categorized as "red," indicating most at risk of extinction. The other 119 are categorized as "yellow," which means the species is "seriously declining or rare." The watch list was released Wednesday.
California had 73 species on the list and 22 in the red category. All of Hawaii's 39 imperiled species were put in the red category. Of the 50 Bay Area birds on the list, 14 were in the red category.

The list is a synthesis of the known science regarding population size, range, threats and population trends.

The groups that prepared the list want other organizations and government agencies to use it to decide which birds need better protection under the Endangered Species Act. They also want more money for recovery programs and better management of threats within the birds' ranges.
"We need to use every tool at our disposal, from private action to the Endangered Species Act," said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy, which was founded to further protect declining bird populations. "The United States is going greener, and birds are nature's best ambassadors for this new environmental ethic."

Efforts should be made to eradicate invasive species, eliminate the worst pesticides, combat global warming and plan appropriate development, Fenwick said.
Recent measures taken to help birds include California's law that bans the use of lead shot in condor territory. New protections also have been passed to limit the threat that dogs and people pose to snowy plovers that nest on parts of the state's coastline.
Bird watching is a popular pastime in the United States - an estimated 60 million people show an interest in birds, a figure larger than the membership of AARP, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

Yet since the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the Endangered Species Act has been underfunded, and in recent years government officials have added only a few species to the protection list, said Greg Butcher, Audubon's director of bird conservation.
"San Francisco Bay has many important bird areas. We're encouraging people to go out and improve the habitats that are there. Plant natives, pull out invasive, improve your own backyard," Butcher said. "Even city dwellers share the need for clean air and clean water with birds. It turns out that what's good for birds is also good for people. When birds are out of kilter, nature is out of kilter."
Online resource:
Read about the watch list:

Species status: Declining or rare
Of the 217 bird species placed on the list by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, 36 of the 50 found in the Bay Area are on the list of seriously declining or rare species:
Common name
Scientific name
Allen's hummingbird
Selasphorus sasin
Ancient murrelet
Synthliboramphus antiquus
Black skimmer
Rynchops niger
Black turnstone
Arenaria melanocephala
Buller's shearwater
Puffinus bulleri
California thrasher
Toxostoma redivivum
Clapper rail
Rallus longirostris
Clark's grebe
Aechmophorus clarkii
Costa's hummingbird
Calypte costae
Elegant tern
Thalasseus elegans
Heermann's gull
Larus heermanni
Hermit warbler
Dendroica occidentalis
Lawrence's goldfinch
Carduelis lawrencei
Long-billed curlew
Numenius americanus
Marbled godwit
Limosa fedoa
Marbled murrelet
Brachyramphus marmoratus
Mountain quail
Oreortyx pictus
Nuttall's woodpecker
Picoides nuttallii
Oak titmouse
Baeolophus inornatus
Olive-sided flycatcher
Contopus cooperi
Red knot
Calidris canutus
Sage sparrow
Amphispiza belli
Calidris alba
Short-eared owl
Asio flammeus
Snowy plover
Charadrius alexandrinus
Sooty shearwater
Puffinus griseus
Aphriza virgata
Swainson's hawk
Buteo swainsoni
Thayer's gull
Larus thayeri
Varied thrush
Ixoreus naevius
Wandering tattler
Tringa incana
Western sandpiper
Calidris mauri
White-headed woodpecker
Picoides albolarvatus
Williamson's sapsucker
Sphyrapicus thyroideus
Chamaea fasciata
Yellow-billed magpie
Pica nuttalli
Source: National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy
E-mail Jane Kay at

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