We surveyed birds on grain and non-grain fields in the Tulare Basin of California treated post-harvest with two types of flooding that varied in duration and depth of water applied (Flooded-type fields [FLD]: <1 cm-1.5 m for >1 week; Irrigated-type fields [IRG]: <1-15 cm water for <1 week at a time). Our goal was to compare use of these field types by birds to guide habitat conservation in the region. During 19 August-6 December 2005, we counted a total of 80,316 birds during 23 surveys of 5 FLD (4 wheat, 1 alfalfa) fields and 8,225 birds during 38 surveys of 33 IRG (23 cotton, 4 tomato, 3 wheat, 1 alfalfa, 1 oat, 1 fallow) fields. We recorded 14 waterfowl (13 duck, 1 goose), 29 other waterbird (coots, shorebirds, grebes, pelicans, herons, egrets, gulls, terns), and 14 non-waterbird (passerines, raptors, and vultures) species on FLD fields compared to 5 duck, 14 other waterbird, and 9 non-waterbird species on IRG fields. Species composition differed by field type; waterfowl (FLD vs. IRG, 16.2% vs. 1.3%) and other waterbirds (80.4% vs. 71.6%) comprised a greater percentage and non-waterbirds (3.5% vs. 27.1%) a lower percentage of birds on FLD than on IRG fields. The modeled density estimate of waterfowl was 108 times greater on FLD than IRG fields and 7.4 times greater on grain than non-grain fields. The density estimate of other waterbirds was 11.8 times greater on FLD than IRG fields and 4.4 times greater on grain than non-grain fields. The density estimate of non-waterbirds was 14.3 times greater on grain than non-grain fields but did not differ by flood type. Long duration (i.e., >1 week) flooding increased waterbird use of grain fields in the Tulare Basin more than in the northern Central Valley. Thus, even though water costs are high in the Tulare Basin, if net benefit to waterbirds is considered, management programs that increase availability of FLD-type fields (especially grain) in the Tulare Basin may be a cost-effective option to help meet waterbird habitat conservation goals in the Central Valley of California.
Additional publication details
Bird use of fields treated postharvest with two types of flooding in Tulare Basin, California