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Engaging with Birds: First Step to Conservation

Pocket Guides to Birds

Melissa Pitkin


Those of you reading this article probably are PRBO members or partners, care about birds and conservation, and can name at least five of the birds found on your property. If we spoke about what you might do to benefit birds in your area, I imagine you would likely help!

But what if you didn't already know something about birds—and had never watched Wilson's Warblers carrying food to their young, Acorn Woodpeckers caching acorns for the winter, or Long-billed Curlews feeding on invertebrates in a hay field? Would you do beneficial things, such as leaving dead trees on your property for the woodpeckers, planting native plants, or not mowing your field during the nesting season?


To translate our scientific findings into recommendations for land managers—and to engage members of the public with birds—PRBO publishes habitat enhancement guides, pocket guides, and bird conservation plans.

Engaging people with birds is an important first step towards informing their actions to meet the needs of birds. This can happen on a bird walk led by a naturalist like Rich Stallcup, through one-on-one interaction with a PRBO field biologist, or by learning from a parent or a friend. Such occasions are often interpersonal and small- scale. While we would like to be able to provide experiences like these across California, we need to engage people on a larger scale and empower them to connect with nature on their own.
Pocket guides...

One of the solutions we have come up with is a series of easy-to-use, pocket-sized field guides to the most common birds of a specific habitat type or region. These little books are not traditional bird identification guides; instead, they provide conservation tips and natural history notes on each species, along with tips for how to enhance the relevant habitat. The conservation tips come from published documents such as the Partners In Flight Bird Conservation Plans, authored by PRBO staff and/or containing our findings. Pocket guides serve as a good gateway to these more technical conservation plans.
...and habitat enhancement guides...

The first PRBO pocket guide, to the creek birds of California, introduces landowners to the birds using the riparian or creek habitat that we encourage them to restore. We wanted to give people something they could easily take into the field to identify birds, while also teaching them about riparian restoration actions for bird habitat. Five thousand copies were produced and distributed to landowners, community groups, agencies, and conservation groups throughout California—they flew out the door as fast as we could print them. As demonstrated by the quote above, feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Inspired by this success, we are now creating pocket guides to birds for other regions in California. Recently completed is the Pocket Guide to Birds of the San Francisco Bay, which includes commonly seen birds (and conservation tips) for four habitat types: bay water, near-shore (mudflats), tidal marsh, and upland (including oak woodland and riparian). Bay Area habitat managers and conservation groups that deliver education and restoration programs around the San Francisco Bay are now receiving these.
...all draw from findings and recommendations in Bird Conservation Plans (downloadable from www.prbo.org).

Also in progress are the Pocket Guide to Birds of the Sierra Foothills and Pocket Guide to Birds of California's Coastal Beaches, both to be completed this year. To date PRBO has received seed funding for these projects from varied sources (listed below), but our challenge with these very popular booklets is to keep up with subsequent demand. (See the Grand List on page 6 for a relevant funding opportunity!)

PRBO's outreach to engage individuals in "bringing back the birds" takes numerous forms, with some of our products shown on page 7. As an invitation to observe, connect with, and learn about ways to improve habitat, we hope the little pocket guides will inspire more and more people to act in ways that promote the conservation of birds and the ecosystems they depend upon.