WatchList Species Account for California Gnatcatcher |
the list as a Declining Yellow List Species
|Photo: Scott Streit
Widely distributed in a variety of habitats
in arid, lowland regions through most of Baja California,
the California Gnatcatcher has a tenuous hold in its limited
coastal range in Southern California, where it occurs in arid
scrub habitats on some of the most expensive real estate in
the U.S. The rapid population growth and exploding suburban
sprawl of the area has reduced and fragmented the bird’s
coastal sage scrub to such a degree that this northern subspecies
was designated as federally threatened in 1993.
Although the species is abundant in Baja
California, about 3,000 pairs of the northern subspecies are
thought to persist along the Southern California coast, where
from 70-90% of its habitat has been lost, including about
33% from 1993-2001. Listing the species as threatened brought
about legislation in California that protects natural communities
while still allowing economic development. Under this program,
known as the Natural Community Conservation Planning program,
six plans have been submitted and approved, leading to the conservation
of some 88,500 acres of coastal scrub habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently
designated 13 critical habitat units, totalling 513,707 acres,
of which 12% is federal, 5% local and state, and 83% private.
The species is subject to cowbird parasitism, and cowbird
trapping is a feature of management for the gnatcatcher in
some areas. Cold, wet winters can be devastating to the birds,
reducing the population as much as 54% in a single year.