Rocky Redoubt

By Frank Graham Jr.


Islands are the booby traps of avian conservation. While they can isolate birds from mainland hazards, they can become final resting places for countless species as humans discover the charms of island living. Thus the Channel Islands off southern California are appropriately designated an Important Bird Area, or IBA.

Biologists consider these islands the region's prime seabird nesting area. The shoreline bluffs and offshore rocks provide nesting sites for thousands of seabirds, including tufted puffins, auklets, murrelets, storm petrels, and brown pelicans, while the windswept grasslands are home in winter to burrowing owls, mountain plovers, and Pacific golden-plovers. Thousands of songbirds stop here on migration, particularly in fall. Some species, including the Channel Islands song sparrow and the San Clemente spotted towhee, exist nowhere else.

Five of the eight islands are in Channel Islands National Park. As a result, exploitative land use is not a big problem, but introduced mammals, particularly rats and cats, wreak havoc on nesting birds. The National Park Service wages ongoing war on these pests, though it eradicated cats from Santa Barbara Island in 1978. Other hazards include high-powered lights from night-fishing squid boats and predatory birds such as peregrine falcons and barn owls. Access to the islands is by boat or plane. To learn more, go to www.nps.gov/chis.

For information on Audubon's important bird areas program, visit www.audubon.org, go to Birds & Science/Bird Conservation, and pull down to Important Bird Areas.




© 2005 National Audubon Society

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State of the Bird

Species: Xantus' murrelet (Synthliboramphus hypoleucus) is a small, chunky seabird, with a short bill and tail.

Status: With a world population of just 5,600 and a narrow range, it gets a red designation on Audubon's WatchList.

Range/habitat: Nests in four major colonies on California's Channel Islands and on islands off Baja California. Winters offshore, from Baja California, rarely as far north as Washington State. Lays eggs in caves, crevices on rocky cliffs, and sometimes on the ground under dense vegetation.

Threats: Primarily introduced cats, rats, and mice on its nesting islands, which threaten its eggs and young.

Outlook: Eradicating invasive species in Channel Islands National Park has been successful; on other islands the prospects are not so good.

Learn more: To read Audubon's “State of the Birds” report and review the WatchList, go to www.audubon.org, click on Birds & Science/Bird Conservation, and pull down to WatchList.