(Point Blue Conservation Science)

50 years ago the Point Reyes Bird Observatory was founded to study migratory birds. In the decades since, the organization, now called Point Blue Conservation Science and headquartered in Petaluma, has expanded to include wide-ranging ecosystem conservation, working to reduce the effects of habitat loss and climate change on birds and other wildlife. In its 50th anniversary year, Forum talks with Point Blue about changes in California’s bird populations, the health of bird habitats and threatened birds of the Bay Area.

Pocket Guide to Birds of San Francisco Bay

Guests:
Grant Ballard, chief science officer, Point Blue Conservation Science
Ellie Cohen, president and CEO, Point Blue Conservation Science
Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada group director, Point Blue Conservation Science

  • Pete

    What do your guests think of birdfeeders? Do they have a negative, artificial impact on bird diversity and ecology?

    • Ryan Burnett

      Hi Pete, Ryan Burnett here from Point Blue. Bird feeders are complicated. On the one hand they can inspire many to care about birds. But, bird feeders in the wrong situation can have more negative impacts than positive. For example, if your feeder attracts lots of predators of native birds such as squirrels, jays, or Brown-headed Cowbirds they can unintentionally decimate the birds breeding in and around your yard. At Mono Lake we documented the return of an endangered bird – the Willow Flycatcher to the restored streams in the area. Over the course of a decade we carefully followed every bird and watched as Brown-headed Cowbirds decimated the population by laying their eggs in the flycatchers nests and even destroying their eggs and killing their young. Cowbirds are a native species but numbers have increased with increased livestock in California and bird feeders. There is no livestock grazing near Mono Lake so the cowbirds were going into Lee Vining and June Lake to visit the feeders of bird lovers. Cowbirds love to eat millet and would turn that millet into more eggs to lay in the nests of the flycatchers. Unfortunately, that small population of Willow Flycatcher has been extirpated from Mono Lake as the oldest birds have now died having never produced enough young to replace themselves. With all that said – i feed birds outside my office here on the shores of Lake Almanor but i only do it from October – March – when there are no cowbirds around or birds trying to nest. I am extra careful because i live on the edge of a beautiful meadow that has the 2nd largest population of Willow Flycatcher left in the state. Most of our native bird species do not require seed during the breeding season as they eat primarily insects and most have to feed their young insects as well (notable exceptions to this include the Goldfinches). Here are the rules i live by for feeding birds:
      1. If you have an outdoor cat or neighbor cats come in your yard don’t feed birds – you are baiting a death trap
      2. If you live near a natural area don’t feed birds during the breeding season seed with millet (March – August). Consider hummingbird feeders or a thistle sock during this season.
      3. Don’t dump seed on the ground – it attracts squirrels, cowbirds, skunks, etc.
      4. Clean your feeder regularly both inside and out – use hot water and if you suspect a diseased bird has visited your feeder use a mild bleach solution that you rinse of thoroughly (bleach on the outside only)
      5. Make sure the seed in your feeder is always dry – damp seed can spawn pathogens
      6. Observe your feeder often to make sure you aren’t seeing birds with growths on their feet or face – if you do suspend feeding for a while – feeders are like public restrooms and can be a vector for disease
      7. Change nectar and clean hummingbird feeders every 4 days and avoid placing them in the sun to avoid is spoiling/fermenting.
      8. Consider planting a native garden full of plants that provide food and cover for birds – lots of great native plant nurseries in the bay area.

  • Livegreen

    What’s the impact of invasive species like the domesticated cat on California populations? I read recently in the NY Times that a minimum of 1 billion small wild creatures are killed annually by peoples’ cats.

  • Doug F

    Natural grassland, which is green & fire-resistant 9-10mo a year if our normal rainfall ever returns, & is a relatively small volume of material, is a lot less fire-prone than eucalyptus, which is full of volatile oils. It’s also what all the native species evolved in.

    This is the 3rd year in a row that female feral cats have stayed fertile remarkably late in the season, causing kittens to be born as late as November. This must be an effect of global warming. You can see the effects in any animal shelter–there are still many young kittens out for adoption. I’m worried about how many places are left in adoption-prone homes for next year’s kittens, even as adorable as they are. And this can’t be good for the birds, either.

    If there are feral cats in your ‘hood, see Fix Our Ferals & similar organizations about TNR (trap, neuter & release) programs.

    • Linda C Rodgers

      thank you for mentioning FOF. Also people in Contra Costa County can get assistance with spay, neuter even trapping ferals to have them spayed and neutered from Outcast Cat Help, HALO and HARP and Community Concern 4 Cats.

  • Linda C Rodgers

    Real science has proven over and over that humans are destroying bird habitat and causing the bird populations to suffer ar more than the feral,cat population. Let’s not forget as well that the only reason we have an increasing feral cat population is completely due to irresponsible humans who dump, abandon to die cats who they never bother to have spayed and neutered. All the hype about cats being the destroyer of all things avian is pure click bait on social media.

    • Viola Toniolo

      Spayed and neutered cats still hunt birds. The only way to keep birds safe from cats is to keep cats indoors, which most cats do happily.

      • Linda C Rodgers

        I do not disagree with cats being safer indoors, mine are always indoors due to the many dangers to cats, from humans, when allowed to be outside unsupervised. Spay, neuter does mean no more cats coming into a community of ferals and strays. TNR and RTF is the humane way to strategically decrease the numbers of feral cats.

  • Doug F

    The places to take any injured, sick or orphaned native animal are, for Marin County, WildCare in San Rafael, http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/ , & in the E Bay, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, http://lindsaywildlife.org/ . For the urban E Bay (Oakland to Albany), Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue, http://yuwr.org/ (although I take birds from Berkeley to the Lindsay, for its better facilities), & SF, only the Rescued Orphan Mammal Program, http://www.sfromp.org/ .
    Elsewhere, there’s an interactive map for all of California at
    http://www.ccwr.org/resources/rehabilitation-facilities.html

    Linda– Also, wild birds have evolved around wild cats for millions of years. Cats only make bird species extinct on islands where the birds evolved with no ground-based predators.

    • Linda C Rodgers

      what about airborne predators? Ever see the headless songbirds’ carcasses left to rot after a barn owl has bitten off their head? I tire of cats , feral or even owned loved pets who are allowed outside, being labeled culprits for the demise of bird species. It just is not a valid belief.

      • Chris OConnell

        It’s a fact not a belief even if you are tired of hearing this fact.

    • Gonopore8

      Wild house cats have been in North America for millions of years? They must have descended from sabertooths

      • Doug F

        I said “wild cats,” not “wild housecats.” Besides saberteeth & other big kitties, those have included Felis lacustris, F. rexroadensis, F. protolyncis (“Early Lynx”) and F. longignathus (all now extinct), the modern lynx (3+ million yrs ago), the bobcat (1.8 mil), & other smaller cats that must have hunted birds, going back an unbroken ~18 million years.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_gap
        http://messybeast.com/cat-prehistory.htm

        • Gonopore8

          So that also must mean the effects of housecats on native birds would be the same as what extinct lynx would have done to them, or the effects of 8sumthingazillion housecats would be the same as premodern densities of bobcats? Thus birds are fine coexisting with housecats?

          • Doug F

            I didn’t say that. The density of outdoor housecats is clearly higher than could be supported by their food supply in a natural ecosystem, since humans bring in as much food as the pet cats want (& often feed strays & ferals too). A strong mitigating factor is that most pet cats haven’t been trained in how to hunt & kill by momma, & aren’t very good at it. Only one of our 3 has even managed to bring in a live squealing mouse (on average twice a year)–she knows how to catch them, but not how to intentionally kill & eat them–& has only brought in birds a couple of times over a few years.

  • Chris OConnell

    I am offended by pictures of people holding captured birds.

    • Doug F

      Even when that bird was rescued from likely or certain death in the wild, & will be returned to the wild if it recovers sufficiently? You must be offended by lots of other things that you don’t find PC enough either.

      • Chris OConnell

        PC? What the hell are you talking about! I just see human hubris, acting like Gods over other creatures, and smiling for the camera to memorialize the fun: “Look at me controlling a bird.” I have never heard another person express this sentiment so I don’t know who I am being PC with.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor