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Blog | Malibu Lagoon Project Has Little Impact on Bird Population

The project has had no effect upon the birds in the main lagoon or on the beach.

There have been many statements, conjectures, guesswork and accusations about how the Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project was going to kill all the birds, how they are all gone, and so on.

I, and other members of Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society (SMBAS), have censused the lagoon's bird population monthly for over 30 years. We began reporting our monthly census results on our chapter blog in January 2009.

Three months of comparitive data are presented below: one month (May) prior to the project onset, and two months during the project. We'll continue reporting this data on the SMBAS permanent blog project page until sometime after the project is finished.

If it seems like there are fewer birds now than before the project, you're right. That's why we compare June-to-other-Junes, not June-to-December. May and June are low points of the year for birds counts at the lagoon because most birds fly off to breed in places like Alaska. Numbers and diversity pick up a bit in July, peak in January - March, and then begin to drop off again.

Our interim conclusion is that, so far, the project is having no significant effect on species diversity and total population of the lagoon (which always includes Surfrider Beach) as a whole. The west channels area, as bad as it currently looks, still has a few birds foraging in it, at least on weekends when no one is working. West channel area birdlife on July 22 was not greatly different from that of May 27, despite the greatly altered appearance.

Total birds and species diversity numbers fluctuate, as always, but the main lagoon birdlife is essentially unaffected by the project.

Bird Census Comparisons by Month (see below)
I am able to squeeze in 10 years of data for the summaries.
Types of Birds
Waterfowl: Geese, ducks
Water Birds-Other: Loons, grebes, shearwater. cormorants, pelican, rail, coot
Herons & Egrets: Heron, egrets, night-heron, Ibis
Raptors: Vulture, osprey, hawks, falcons
Shorebirds: Plovers, oystercatcher, stilt, avocet, sandpipers, phalaropes
Gulls & Terns: Gulls, terns, skimmer, jaeger, guillemot
Doves: Pigeons, doves
Other Non-Pass: Parakeet, swifts, Hummingbirds, Kingfisher, Woodpeckers
Passerines: All "songbirds" - flycatcher, swallow, wren, crow, warbler, sparrow, blackbird, finch, etc.

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The May 2012 report on our SMBAS blog has species sighting details for the most recent six years.
Comment on May 2012: total birds slightly (15%) above average; species diversity average. Project started a few days later.

Malibu Census 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Totals by Type 5/25 5/23 5/22 5/28 5/27 5/25 5/24 5/23 5/22 5/27 Ave. Waterfowl 30 11 23 44 57 38 38 37 51 42 37 Water Birds-Other 110 27 323 179 668 252 132 148 152 313 230 Herons & Egrets 12 13 7 7 26 25 13 16 6 23 15 Raptors 0 3 1 2 1 1 1 1 3
1 Shorebirds 99 37 44 39 10 1 5 5 5 51 30 Gulls & Terns 356 165 147 160 235 148 144 216 51 151 177 Doves 5 10 6 7 12 2 10 12 9 5 8 Other Non-Pass. 6 8 5 5 15 4 10 7 5 8 7 Passerines 77 195 137 74 176 139 79 106 131 127 124 Totals Birds 695 469 693 517 1200 610 432 548 413 720 630
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total Species 5/25 5/23 5/22 5/28 5/27 5/25 5/24 5/23 5/22 5/27 Ave. Waterfowl 5 3 2 2 4 4 4 3 2 4 3 Water Birds-Other 6 4 4 5 5 6 5 7 3 4 5 Herons & Egrets 2 4 4 3 4 4 4 3 3 4 4 Raptors 0 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 0 1 Shorebirds 9 3 6 6 3 1 2 2 2 6 4 Gulls & Terns 9 8 9 7 7 9 7 6 6 7 8 Doves 2 2 1 2 3 1 2 2 2 3 2 Other Non-Pass. 4 4 2 3 3 2 2 2 2 3 3 Passerines 19 21 19 18 17 19 16 19 16 16 18 Totals Species 56 51 48 47 47 47 43 45 39 47 47

*******************************
The original June 2012 on our SMBAS blog has species sighting details for the most recent six years. No June census done in 2003 or 2008.
Comment on June 2012:
  total birds well (60%) above average (high numbers of Brown Pelican & Elegant Tern); species diversity slightly (11%) below average.

Malibu Census 2001 2002 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011 2012
Totals by Type 6/24 6/23 6/27 6/26 6/25 6/24 6/28 6/27 6/26 6/24 Ave. Waterfowl 20 16 28 27 39 62 41 62 46 26 36.7 Water Birds-Other 29 98 86 95 31 271 117 217 97 368 140.9 Herons & Egrets 7 14 27 9 12 24 28 28 19 5 17.3 Raptors 0 2 3 1 0 2 3 1 4 1 1.7 Shorebirds 2 18 27 56 25 3 9 2 7 25 17.4 Gulls & Terns 157 95 168 85 333 433 139 105 96 373 198.4 Doves 32 10 7 8 10 4 10 8 9 4 10.2 Other Non-Pass. 1 9 5 3 3 2 6 3 2 12 4.6 Passerines 123 155 97 77 94 96 93 220 122 49 112.6 Totals Birds 371 417 448 361 547 897 446 646 402 863 539.8
2001 2002 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011 2012   Total Species 6/24 6/23 6/27 6/26 6/25 6/24 6/28 6/27 6/26 6/24 Ave. Waterfowl 1 1 1 2 3 5 3 4 2 2 2.4 Water Birds-Other 3 6 5 6 4 6 4 4 4 5 4.7 Herons & Egrets 4 5 4 4 3 6 4 4 5 2 4.1 Raptors 0 2 3 1 0 2 3 1 3 1 1.6 Shorebirds 1 5 6 6 2 1 3 1 2 4 3.1 Gulls & Terns 4 10 5 5 8 6 5 7 6 5 6.1 Doves 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 1.9 Other Non-Pass. 1 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 2.1 Passerines 14 18 17 16 14 15 16 15 19 13 15.7 Totals Species 30 52 45 44 38 44 42 40 45 37 41.7

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The original July 2012 on our SMBAS blog has species sighting details for the most recent six years. No July census done in 2002 or 2008.
Comment on July 2012: total birds slightly (14%) below average (low number of Brown Pelican); species diversity slightly (11%) above average.

Malibu Census 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011 2012
Totals by Type 7/22 7/27 7/25 7/24

7/23

7/22

7/26

7/25

7/24

7/22

Ave.

Waterfowl 30 22 20 15 73 62 26 58 56 49 41.1 Water Birds-Other 75 85 103 15 47 128 81 227 463 57 128.1 Herons & Egrets 31 23 23 12 47 28 50 28 32 13 28.7 Raptors 2 3 1 1 2 2 1 1 0 1 1.4 Shorebirds 33 9 35 163 22 23 4 127 32 128 57.6 Gulls & Terns 371 148 457 113 123 140 44 306 175 161 203.8 Doves 46 10 10 2 2 8 3 10 9 4 10.4 Other Non-Pass. 8 8 14 0 4 7 5 7 6 10 6.9 Passerines 594 95 117 114 99 121 95 152 167 133 168.7 Totals Birds 1190 403 780 435 419 519 309 916 940 556 646.7 Malibu Census 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011 2012   Total Species 7/22 7/27 7/25 7/24

7/23

7/22

7/26

7/25

7/24

7/22

Ave.

Waterfowl 1 1 1 1 3 2 2 3 2 4 2.0 Water Birds-Other 5 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 5 4 4.7 Herons & Egrets 5 5 4 4 5 5 4 4 4 3 4.3 Raptors 2 2 1 1 2 2 1 1 0 1 1.3 Shorebirds 9 2 12 9 4 7 4 10 8 11 7.6 Gulls & Terns 6 6 9 5 7 6 3 9 8 7 6.6 Doves 2 2 2 1 1 2 3 2 2 2 1.9 Other Non-Pass. 3 3 2 0 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.1 Passerines 17 19 15 11 13 18 16 16 19 18 16.2 Totals Species 50 45 51 37 42 49 40 51 50 52 46.7

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Wendi Werner August 09, 2012 at 08:59 PM
There are no birds left.
Chuck Almdale August 09, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Greta, Summation was necessary. To list all birds seen in a month over a 10-year period would make each table over 100 rows long. At the beginning of each month in the tables above is a link to postings on our website which give the counts for each species sighted. If you want to see the detail, go there. As explained in the blog above, rails, coots and grebes are lumped into "Water Birds - Other." Coots, cormorants and pelican numbers in the same category can get quite high, Pied-billed Grebes average 4-5 birds a month, peaking Aug-Oct when the fall migrants come through. One grebe family (possibly two, but I doubt it) has nested at the lagoon in the past few years. We've had 1-2 Virginia Rails and 2-3 Soras spending the winter with us for the past few years. Without reeds, it's unlikely they'll be with us this winter. I don't know if there are plans to plant reeds. I think, but don't know for sure, that the reeds that were there were not started by humans. They started as a very few plants in the north channel maybe 20 years ago, and expanded to what was there in May. The birds dependent on the reeds went elsewhere. In life there are offsets. All the birds count. I loved showing the Sora and Virginia Rail to people - they're difficult birds to see - but in my opinion the overall habitat improvement for ALL the birds - the mud, soil, water & invertebrate food - offsets the loss, possibly temporary, of the reeds.
Chuck Almdale August 09, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Wendi: There are plenty of birds left. Also: I already fully addressed your claim of my supposed telephone comment to you some time back on another blog. That you choose to ignore my reply and again repeat the same silly & unsupported claim, shows that you see only what you want to see. Such as the birds. You don't want to see them, so you don't see them.
Wendi Werner August 10, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Never saw the other bog. As for the birds, they will return after this restoration is done.
Wendi Werner August 10, 2012 at 04:22 AM
blog

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