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Breeding Waterbird Populations Have Declined in South San Francisco Bay: An Assessment Over Two Decades

  • Author(s): Hartman, C. Alex;
  • Ackerman, Joshua T.;
  • Schacter, Carley R.;
  • Herzog, Mark P.;
  • Tarjan, L. Max;
  • Wang, Yiwei;
  • Strong, Cheryl;
  • Tertes, Rachel;
  • Warnock, Nils
  • et al.
Abstract

In south San Francisco Bay, former salt ponds now managed as wildlife habitat support large populations of breeding waterbirds. In 2006, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project began the process of converting 50% to 90% of these managed pond habitats into tidal marsh. We compared American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) abundance in south San Francisco Bay before (2001) and after approximately 1,300 ha of managed ponds were breached to tidal action to begin tidal marsh restoration (2019). Over the 18-year period, American Avocet abundance declined 13.5% (2,765 in 2001 vs. 2,391 in 2019), and Black-necked Stilt abundance declined 30.0% (1,184 in 2001 vs. 828 in 2019). Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) abundance was 2,675 birds in 2019. In 2019, managed ponds accounted for only 25.8% of suitable habitats, yet contained 53.9%, 38.6%, and 65.6% American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Forster’s Tern observations, respectively. Conversely, tidal marsh and tidal mudflats accounted for 42.9% of suitable habitats, yet contained only 18.4%, 10.3%, and 19.8% of American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Forster’s Tern observations, respectively. Using a separate nest-monitoring data set, we found that nest abundance in south San Francisco Bay declined for all three species from 2005–2019. Average annual nest abundance during 2017–2019 declined 53%, 71%, and 36%, for American Avocets, Back-necked Stilts, and Forster’s Terns, respectively, compared to 2005–2007. Loss of island nesting habitat as a result of tidal marsh conversion and an increasing population of predatory California Gulls (Larus californicus) are two potential causes of these declines. All three species established nesting colonies on newly constructed islands within remaining managed ponds; however, these new colonies did not make up for the steep declines observed at other historical nesting sites. For future wetland restoration, retaining more managed ponds that contain islands suitable for nesting may help to limit further declines in breeding waterbird populations.

 

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