Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Celebrating Dave Shuford

Dave Shuford, known to many as “Shuf,” retired at the end of March after 40 years of advancing conservation science at Point Blue. Dave has been lead or coauthor on close to 100 publications. Needless to say, Dave is a prolific scientist, largely contributing to and influencing wetland and shorebird conservation. He also served as a mentor to many of the scientists he worked with, setting the standard for rigorous, objective peer-review. We’re so grateful to Dave for all of the passion, intellect, and work he has dedicated to conservation with us and we’re excited to have him stay connected to Point Blue as a Research Associate

A farewell note from Dave:


I’m writing to more broadly announce that after over 40 years in the PRBO orbit, I’m spinning off to retire at age 70.

It has been a long and incredible journey that started when I arrived at Palomarin as an intern in 1975, shortly after getting a Master’s degree at UC Davis and wondering what the heck I would do with my life. Yet after falling in with a group of Davis birders – some of whom later became prominent conservationists – it was soon clear my passion was for birds and that was the path to follow.

At Palomarin I started mist-netting and gridding, but before long I was helping on shorebird and waterbird surveys led by Gary Page and Lynne Stenzel, first at Bolinas Lagoon and later also at various other Pt. Reyes estuaries, taking the wetland rather than upland fork in the road. To keep things afloat I took jobs with MVZ, which included three summers in the Arctic studying shorebirds and other tundra nesting birds followed by winters at Bodega Bay helping on a study of the ecology of Sanderlings. But the magnetism of PRBO pulled me back to continue with Pt. Reyes waterbird surveys and revive and later publish the Marin County Breeding Bird Atlas, which along with leisure birding kept me in the field 6-7 days a week.

Dave Shuford (left) and Rich Stallcup

After initially focusing most of my efforts locally, a major turning point came in 1983 when the founder of the Mono Lake Committee, David Gaines, asked PRBO to take over the study of breeding California Gulls at Mono to support efforts to protect the lake from harm by water diversions by the city of Los Angeles. Leading the gull study for many years opened my eyes to a magical place that still holds a deep place in my heart, and honed my appreciation for the hard work of collaborative conservation when testifying in court and water board hearings with many others, whose collective efforts on multiple fronts eventually led to protection of Mono Lake. Remarkably, the gull study at Mono, now long under others’ direction, has continued to the present.

After 1983, with the exception of coordinating shorebird surveys off and on in San Francisco Bay and a short stint surveying penguin colonies in the Antarctic, the vast majority of my field work was on others’, and my 

Dave Shuford (left) and fellow field biologist, Jules Evans

own self-directed, studies of shorebirds or waterbirds in the interior of California and beyond. Key efforts included the Pacific Flyway Project (documenting the importance of sites throughout the West to shorebirds), statewide and more frequent local (Owens and Mono lakes) surveys of Snowy Plovers, reconnaissance surveys of waterbirds at the Salton Sea and Klamath Basin, Central Valley-wide surveys of Long-billed Curlews and breeding shorebirds, statewide surveys of breeding colonial waterbirds, and studies of waterbird use of various crops and crop treatments in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. I’m grateful that much of this work has provided baseline data for setting conservation goals in many areas of the state where conflicts over water use are particularly great.

When not in the field I’ve spent a lot of time publishing the results of these studies, writing or co-editing several conservation plans and status assessments, and co-editing several monographs on related topics (Salton Sea, California Bird Species of Special Concern, avifaunal change in western North America), all of which were substantially aided by Gary Page’s initial mentoring of my scientific writing. In addition, starting with PRBO’s former Natural Excursion’s Program, I’ve led various bird classes and workshops and continue to do so, using information and lessons learned here. Oh, and I have a habit of writing very long emails like this one (some people talk a lot, others…)!

Dave Shuford with partner and former Point Blue Biologist Jen Roth and their son, Aiden

I hope the above gives a partial overview of the extent of PRBO/Point Blue’s wetland studies over this period and the arc of my career for those of you who have not been around for the 40-year ride and don’t know me or my work well.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without a dash of luck and, particularly, the strong support of supervisors, fellow scientists, management and support staff, and the many, many far-flung colleagues, collaborators, and volunteers I’ve worked with and developed friendships with when crisscrossing the state in space and time. I heartily thank all of you for that and hope to keep in touch and continue to collaborate in the future.

I won’t be far, as I live just 3 miles from the mothership in Petaluma, and as a research associate I plan to continue to come to the office part time to write papers on data collected but not yet published.  I also hope to get out birding more (having been on a stringent diet in this regard for a while), support my partner Jen as she continues to work, and spend more time with, and learn parenting/life lessons from, our now two-year-old son.

In parting, it has been amazing to see the expansion and evolution of PRBO/Point Blue over the years, and I wish you all the best of luck in further evolving and adapting to conserve birds, other wildlife, and their habitats in the future.

Warmest regards,