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'Pop-up Wetlands' Are Ideal Landing Zones For Thirsty Birds

Sep 13, 2014 01:02 PM EDT
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In the wake of intense drought conditions in California's Central Valley, migratory birds suddenly find themselves without a place to rest and recover before the next leg of their journey. However, conservationists have rented thousands of acres of land, which are then flooded to provided temporary wetlands for these long-distance fliers.

These "pop-up habitats," which The Nature Conservancy calls a "precision conservation" strategy appears to have been pretty successful.

"With more than 90% of wetlands dedicated to farms and much of the remainder dried up due to one of the most severe droughts in California history, we estimate birds will find only about 15% of habitat than what's typically available," the Conservancy said in a recent release." The question remains, where will these birds go?"

"Temporarily flooded rice fields!" seems to be the not-so-obvious answer.

The Conservancy rented out 14,000 acres from rice farmers for the short time that annual migrations would bring about 350 bird species to California's Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

"It was incredible," biologist Simon Avery, a field monitor for the Nature Conservancy, told the Associated Press (AP). "The birds are flying high over our heads, and they see water and come down."

These pop-up habitats are part of a growing initiative to stave off the extinction of hundreds of bird species threatened by climate change, where drastic and unusual changes in weather conditions are shrinking habitats and leaving migratory species with nowhere to go.

Imagine traveling cross-country every year, always stopping at the same diner along the way, and suddenly that diner is nothing but a dried out husk. And not only that, but the entire town the diner was in is empty... that would be enough send anyone for a loop.

However, in the wake of California's very serious drought conditions this year, even the number of pop-up wetlands may be reduced, simply in the interest of conserving water. The consequence could  be the rampant spread of disease among birds in cramped quarters.

But conservationists say that without these rented landing zones, the birds would keep on flying, burning more energy in a search for feed and water that they would not find.

"We feel helpless," conservationist Greg Gulot told the AP, expressing his concern that even with a bid system to flood farmland in place for the approaching September to October, and February to March migratory periods, it won't be enough. "There's just no way."

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