Once again, tricolored blackbirds are likely nesting in high concentrations on a few dairy farms. And once again, the federal government will pay farmers to delay harvesting of feed crops where the eggs sit.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is in the fourth year of a program that aims to rebuild the species in the San Joaquin Valley. The birds once numbered in the millions, but the loss of marshland habitat has reduced them to an estimated 145,000 as of 2014.
The tricoloreds that remain tend to nest in dairy feed crops that are harvested in spring, such as wheat and a wheat-rye hybrid called triticale. The machinery can wipe out thousands of eggs in a day.
The agency will compensate farmers for the reduced feed quality resulting from delaying the harvest until the birds take flight. All of the Valley counties except San Joaquin are eligible. Riverside County also is part of the program.
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Farmers who think they might have nesting colonies can apply through May 13 at www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov.
Tricoloreds are distinct from red-winged blackbirds, a far more numerous species. The effort has several partners – Western United Dairymen, Audubon California, Dairy Cares, the California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation.