PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 168, Spring 2012: Notes From The Field


Bird Habitat in San Francisco’s Presidio

Understanding Urban Restoration

Renée Cormier

Montane Meadows
Director's Column: Words Matter
Working Landscapes
Urban Restoration
Unlocking the Data
"Sea Elephant" Encounter
PRBO Updates
Focus: Whisper Song
Vision for the Future
Farallon Patrol
Board and Staff Migrations

Restored area in the Presidio. A landfill site in 2004 (top photo) is now a functioning watershed lined with native vegetation. Photos courtesy the Presidio Trust
I step out of my car near my study area on a crisp, sunny morning and hear an upbeat version of “Jingle Bells” blaring from an open window. It’s December in the Presidio of San Francisco, and as I gather my binoculars and data forms I can see the members of a nearby aerobics class working out to holiday music. This urban park holds a striking mix of cultural and natural resources.

The Presidio Trust, the agency that has transformed this historic military base into a National Park, plans to restore the area where I’m working today by planting native shrubs and flowering plants next spring. PRBO’s research will determine which birds are present before and after the restoration and help the Trust measure the project’s success.

I enter the study plot and immediately hear distinctive calls in the trees overhead: Pygmy Nuthatches and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I crane my neck to catch a glimpse of them, then follow the ever-jumbling flock, listening for calling birds that I cannot see, trying to get an accurate count. I scan the open ground and see movement: an Oregon Junco and a Fox Sparrow are stirring up soil with their feet in search of the next bit of food. Just then an Anna’s Hummingbird zips by. When I visit this plot next month she’ll probably have a nest.

Even small pockets of vegetation throughout the Presidio hold many species of birds. Male Anna’s Hummingbirds chase each other from perch to perch, while huge flocks of wintering sparrows forage on the ground under the safe cover of coyote bush, lupine, and California sage.

PRBO began documenting both breeding and wintering birds in Presidio restoration areas in 2001. During this same period the Presidio Trust has enhanced many acres of land by planting native plants and removing certain invasive plant species. They also plan to uncover (or “daylight”) streams formerly capped in concrete. Data that PRBO collects helps the Trust evaluate restoration activities, and we provide recommendations based on lessons learned.

As I continue through the study plot, a large group of school children walks by. They glance in my direction, probably wondering why I’m wearing rubber boots in waist-high grass on a sunny day in the city. Reaching the end of my route, I glimpse movement on the trunk of a nearby tree and put my binoculars up: a magnificent Red-breasted Sapsucker is drilling tiny holes through the bark to reach the energy-rich sap.
Renée Cormier

We tend to think of the city as a place to eat great food and visit museums. Clearly it is also a place where we can provide habitat for many birds and wildlife communities.

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