North American waterfowl are newest casualty of California’s drought – The Sacramento Bee

“California wildlife officials are asking the public to help watch for sick waterfowl that may be suffering because of the drought. Avian botulism is more likely to spread when birds cluster in small pockets of water. Already, hundreds of dead birds have been reported at three locations across the state, including the canal that bisects Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood.

“Add another casualty to California’s prolonged and punishing drought: Wildlife officials warned this week that dry conditions in the state’s Central Valley could have a devastating effect on North American waterfowl.

“The Central Valley is recognized as the most important resting and wintering ground on the Pacific Flyway, a global migratory path for millions of ducks, geese and other birds. About 5 million waterfowl spend the winter on state and federal wildlife refuge areas and flooded rice fields in the Central Valley each winter.

“This year, the worst drought in a generation means those Central Valley habitats have been dramatically reduced in size. Wildlife refuges have had their state and federal water supplies cut by 25 percent. Rice acreage has been reduced by a similar amount as farmers also have endured water cutbacks.

“As a result, millions of migrating birds will be crowded into less habitat, significantly increasing the odds of botulism outbreaks, which spread rapidly and can kill thousands of birds in a matter of days. The problem is not limited to rural areas but can affect waterfowl drawn to urban water bodies as well. Officials also are concerned the drought could cause food shortages.

“Already, at least 1,700 waterfowl have died at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge near the….”

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Wild Ducks

More than 200 waterfowl spend January and February on the old stockponds at Coldwater Farm.  Daily, I scatter six pounds of rolled corn on the causeway between two of the ponds.  Most of the ducks in the photographs below are mallards, but a few coots, ruddy ducks, pintails, ringnecks, and widgeons are present.  Wood ducks came earlier but moved on.

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Ducks on Ice    4-IMG_0150    5-IMG_0154

Wild ducks are not serene.  Furious battles and outbursts of quacks occur day and night.  When it is quiet down at the ponds I know the ducks have fled a predator or a two-legged marauder.

The ducks look forward to the daily corn delivery.  If I miss a day, they come to the backyard where they mill around clucking, quacking, and gleaning songbird feed.  When I come out, they lead the way back to the pond, confident that the corn is coming.


Autumn Bird Feeding

After 3-month hiatus, refilled the songbird feeders and took a bucket of rolled corn to the ducks.

Mostly Mallards

Ducks on the Lilly Pond

The duck population is up from a summer low of seven to about 70.  Most of them were here last winter.  When I called, the quacks exploded as if I had fed the day before.

Songbirds will be slower to return, but within a month there will be thousands of daily visits to the feeders.  This year I am adding suet to the menu.  Woodpeckers and flickers are always around.  Let’s see if they would like a little extra fat.

Sightings today:  House Finch, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks, and several LBBs (grass sparrow).