Migratory birds find refuge on farms as part of conservation plan.
Ker Than in Staten Island, California
Published February 20, 2013
On a recent bright afternoon in late January, scattered flocks of geese, sandhill cranes, and other birds foraged for food in cornfields on Staten Island (map) in California's Central Valley.
"Some farmers, if they had this concentration of geese, will put out the shotguns and use the sound to distract them," said Brent Tadman, who manages the 9,200-acre (3,700-hectare) Conservation Farms and Ranches on the island.
A pair of sandhill cranes forage on a farm in Staten Island, California.
Photograph courtesy Cynthia Tapley, The Nature Conservancy
But birds on Staten Island are allowed to forage in peace, because this is no ordinary farm. Located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Staten Island was purchased by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2002 in order to create a place where agriculture and conservation can coexist. (Related: "'Walking Wetlands' Help Declining Birds, Boost Crops.")
TNC hopes bird-friendly practices developed and tested on Staten Island will set an example for other farmers for how they can keep their land productive and profitable—while creating habitat for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway, one of four primary migratory routes in North America.
All About the Cranes
Staten Island is a major stopover and wintering ground for a broad suite of migratory bird species—including waterbirds such as ducks, snow geese, herons, and tundra swans—and shorebirds such as plovers and sandpipers. (See National Geographic's backyard bird identifier.)
It's also one of the most important sanctuaries in the state for sandhill cranes, one of the oldest species of living birds.
"There's a very similar species, if not the ancestral version, of these guys that was around in the dinosaur era," said TNC ecologist Greg Golet.