Boat docks sit empty on dry land, as Folsom Lake reservoir near Sacramento stands at only 18 percent capacity during severe drought in California on 17 September 2015. Photo: Mark Ralston / AFP / File

By Karen Graham    
7 November 2015

(Digital Journal) – The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south flyway for migrating birds, extending from Alaska down to Patagonia. California is part of the flight path, and the state's extended drought in now threatening the health of these travelers.

In the northern part of California's Central Valley is a beautiful city called Lodi, and while it's known for being a center of the state's wine production industry, Lodi has another distinction, owing to the city location along the Pacific Flyway. Lodi is also known for its annual "Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival," started 20 years ago.

Sandhill cranes, with their red heads, 7-foot (2.13 m) wingspan, and a trilling call, are a welcome sight every fall, and provide a dramatic, almost awe-inspiring sight as they land by the thousands in the wetlands near Sacramento each evening during the fall and winter. […]

Up to six million ducks, geese, and swans, as well as millions of shorebirds, seabirds and songbirds depend on the Sierra Nevada's snowpack in the winter to leave freshly melted snow alive with grasses and insects. However, the drought has dried up many of the state's wetlands, and insects, fish, and plants are gone.

In July this year, National Geographic published a report on the drought and its threat to the health of the migratory birds. Blake Barbaree, an avian ecologist at Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit research center in Petaluma, California told Nat Geo, "The longer droughts are the worst. At first, the energy deficits from too little food affect the weaker or younger ones. In back-to-back droughts, even the strong birds get pushed to the limit."

The drought and added stress to migrating birds is evident as over the past two years, many have died, or been depleted of so much energy they are unable to reproduce, affecting the overall populations. Added to this is the number of ducks and geese, crowded onto parched river banks, devoid of the nourishing plants that are usually present, dying from botulism and cholera, which race through their feeding grounds. [more]

California drought may leave migratory birds high and dry

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