Burrowing Owl for the first time in years, getting close-ups of a Western Meadowlark, some Horned Larks, and some nesting Tree Swallows. I was on the lookout, however, for a new species.
Tricolored Blackbirds are very similar to the Redwinged Blackbirds, which range across North America, numbering in the tens of millions. The Tricolors are almost a California endemic, found outside the state only in northern Baja, and at some widely scattered nesting sights in eastern Oregon and Washington. Their population is estimated at a few hundred thousand at most and falling, in part because of an unfortunate nesting habit. They prefer to nest in large colonies in open grassy fields, with nests only a few feet apart from each other. In a number of unfortunate cases, those nests were in wheat or alfalfa fields, and the fields were mechanically harvested before the nestlings could escape destruction. The population dropped so precipitously that they were declared an endangered species in California just a few years ago.
Efforts to protect the birds included payments to farmers with large colonies in their pastures to delay the harvest a few weeks. Cooperation has helped to stabilize the population, but they are still in trouble.