Skip Navigation

Species Search:

Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

A Break for Birds

It started back in April. That's when the birds first began appearing on Greg Tevelde's land. They were Tricolored Blackbirds, and before long an estimated 12,000 pairs had taken up residence on a mere 56 acres. Ready to nest, the birds posed a problem for the dairy farmer. He was due to harvest important silage from the land, but now he would have to wait until the birds departed. Not only would the delay adversely affect the present crop, it would also likely prevent him from planting a second crop later in the year.

Such is the plight of the American farmer, especially the farmer who wants to help a species of bird that's seen its numbers decrease in recent years. Fortunately for Mr. Tevelde, though, he received some help, too.

Once agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game became aware of the birds' presence on the San Joaquin Valley dairy farm, they acted quickly to reach an agreement that would protect the nests. In short, they offered to compensate Mr. Tevelde for at least some of the losses he would suffer if he let the birds remain.

And the birds did remain, with their nests often no more than 5 or 6 feet apart. Within weeks the chicks had hatched, and within a few more weeks 20,000 new Tricolored Blackbirds had successfully fledged. Of course, the birds, young and old, have since moved on, but their brief visit provided a template for the kind of cooperation that will be necessary in future years to keep these animals alive. Whereas single colonies recently boasted more than a million birds each, estimates put the total number of Tricolored Blackbirds now in North America at 750,000.