California has gained a powerful new tool for guiding conservation and research priorities for the state's most vulnerable birds, on both private and public land. Edited by PRBO biologists, the 2008 California Bird Species of Special Concern is a long-awaited update to the original report, generated 30 years ago and much in need of revision. This new document will immediately begin shaping the conservation of bird species at risk in California; the box below suggests some of its current and ongoing uses.
|Burrowing Owls are among the California Species of Special Concern that PRBO has documented in restored grassland habitat on private lands. Photo © Peter Latourrette /www.birdphotography.com.|
What makes a particular bird of special concern? While all native birds are worthy of conservation actions, in a world of finite resources some birds need more immediate attention—to prevent their declines to levels where recovery efforts are costly and difficult. Examples today, among PRBO study species, are the Snowy Plover and San Francisco Common Yellowthroat.
How birds have been assigned to lists of conservation concern at the state, national, and global level has varied over time. The newest methods involve objectively ranking species' conservation priority, using scores for biological variables such as population size, population trends, and threats.
Since 1978, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) has maintained a list of bird species of special concern—those declining or particularly vulnerable to the effects of human activities and most likely to be elevated to threatened or endangered status if present trends continue.
To implement a revision of the original list, CDFG formed a technical advisory committee, of which I was a member, and later selected PRBO to develop the new edition. We followed the committee's objective ranking scheme and fully documented the process.
In a lengthy undertaking akin to herding swallows, Tom Gardali and I, as co-editors, guided the efforts of 48 expert contributors. The final product, a 450-page monograph recently co-published by Western Field Ornithologists and CDFG, synthesizes current knowledge of birds at risk in California: how species of concern are identified and given conservation priorities; which of the state's habitats and geographic areas have high numbers of birds at risk; and what pressing threats those species face.
The heart of the book consists of 63 species accounts, with maps of current and historic ranges; summaries of the birds' status, population trends, ecological requirements, and threats; and priorities for management, research, and monitoring.
The information and insights gathered in the new California Bird Species of Special Concern will likely serve as an incentive for anyone working to protect or enhance habitat for the state's most vulnerable birds.