Can the Pop-up Trend Help Birds and Farmers Survive California’s Drought?


A new Nature Conservancy project pays farmers to flood their land, creating temporary habitats for migrating birds.

Some 8 million migratory birds visiting California’s Central Valley may have their habitats temporarily restored thanks to an innovative partnership with farmers affected by drought. (Photo: Reuters/Andy Clark)

April 13, 2014 By 

Liana Aghajanian is TakePart’s weekend editor. Her work has appeared in,, Los Angeles Times, and

Now a Drought Operations Plan released by the state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is garnering criticism from nature conservationists, who say it’s forgetting a hidden calamity of the water shortage: the 8 million migratory birds that rely on the rapidly disappearing wetlands of California’s Central Valley for survival.

To meet the needs of farmers and birds in one fell swoop, environmental charity group 
The Nature Conservancy has launched an intrepid project called “Pop-up Habitats.”

The project combines crowdsourced data and economics to figure out step by step where and when birds will need to land and whether water might be available to them, and then pays farmers competitive prices to flood their fields precisely at the time of their descent. If it works, it will be a win-win. Farmers whose livelihoods have been affected by drought will benefit from improved soil fertility and the financial incentive. Birds that have a scarce amount of habitat to choose from, as more than 90 percent of their wetlands have been turned into farms, would have a place to land in their seasonal journeys.

The project uses data collected through Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s database to figure out where the biggest populations of birds will be and when, and pinpoints water availability by collaborating with California-based conservancy group Point Blue Conservation.

The organization is predicting that up to a quarter of shorebirds will use the habitats that result from the initial phase, coming as far away as the high Arctic to spend winter in California.

The Nature Conservancy scientist Mark Reynolds recently told KQED that California is vital to the millions of birds that come by for a pit stop and continue hundreds of miles beyond its dry fields.

“It’s like stopping on a road trip, so anywhere that they can find habitat and find things to eat to put on fat for their journey, they’ll stop,” he said.



Comments are closed.