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Willow Flycatcher

Significance

Willow flycatcher (WIFL) was listed by the State of California in 1990 as an Endangered Species. The Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service and Region 1 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have designated the WIFL as a Sensitive Species. Willow flycatcher breeding habitat often occurs within and adjacent to forested habitats.

Photo of Lazuli Bunting (top left), Wood Peewee (bottom left), olive sided flycatcher (top right) and Willow Flycatcher (bottom right) by Greg Gillson, The Bird Guide, Inc., http://thebirdguide.com

Purpose and Need

WIFLs historically nested throughout much of California where mesic willow thickets were found (Grinnel and Miller 1944). In the later half of the 20th century the breeding populations have drastically declined from lower elevation habitats (Serena 1982). WIFLs have specific habitat requirements, typically consisting of riparian habitat often dominated by willows (salix spp), and/or alder (Alnus spp), and permanent water, often in the form of low gradient watercourses, ponds, lakes, wet meadows, marshes, and seeps within and adjacent to forested landscapes.

The greatest historical factor in the decline of the WIFL is the extensive loss, fragmentation, and modification of riparian breeding habitat. Large scale losses of wetlands have occurred, especially those associated with riverine systems in both valley and montane habitats (Phillips et al. 1964, Johnson and Haight. 1984, Katibah 1984, Klebenow and Oakleaf 1984, Unisicker et al. 1984, Johnson et al. 1987, Unitt 1987). Changes in the hydrology and riparian plant community have reduced, degraded, and eliminated WIFL nesting habitat, contributing to its decline in distribution and numbers (Serena 1982, Cannon and Knopf 1984, Klebenow and Oakleaf 1984, Taylor and Littlefield 1986, Unitt 1987, Schlorff 1990).

Goals

  • Maintain and recruit riparian habitat that may support breeding WIFL avoid “take” of breeding WIFL

Objectives

  • Familiarize foresters and landowners with potential habitat
  • Expedite the THP review and consultation process
  • Track survey efforts to refine the known range
  • Develop studies to measure response to various management options

THP Guidelines

A review of the California Natural Diversity Database and available habitat will indicate if WIFL should be addressed in a proposed project. Foresters, biologists, and consultants involved with developing projects should be familiar with the identification and habitat use of WIFL. If GSC is observed, the minimum guidelines described above should be incorporated. DFG and CalFire should be immediately contacted to determine if additional or modified protection measures are warranted.

  • If habitat is present, project proponent has two options:
    • Assume present
    • Conduct Surveys to determine presence/absence
  • If assumed or determined to be present:
    • Critical Breeding Period: May 1 to August 31
    • Disturbance Buffer during Critical Breeding period:
    • Dust-abated roads - 100 feet
    • Vegetation altering activities - 300 feet

Survey Protocol

A Willow Flycatcher Survey Protocol for California developed by Helen L. Bombay, Teresa M. Ritter and Brad E. Valentine, May 29, 2003.

Four photos of Willow Flycatcher habitat

Monitoring

DFG continues to look for opportunities to conduct effectiveness monitoring on applied protection measures. Monitoring the effectiveness of disturbance buffers could add flexibility to a project, and will provide a better scientific basis on which to develop future protection measures. Monitoring opportunities can be developed with the contacts listed above.

Authority

California Forest Practice Rules

  • None

California Fish and Game Code

  • 86 Take
  • 2050 et seq. California Endangered Species Act
  • 2080 Prohibition

California Environmental Quality Act

  • 15380 Endangered, Rare, and Threatened Species
  • Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Acto of 1918

References

  • Cannon, R.W. And F.L. Knopf. 1984. Species composition of a willow community relative to seasonal grazing histories in Colorado. Southwestern Naturalist 29:234-237.
  • Grinnel, J and A. H. Miller 1944. The distribution of the birds of California. Pacific Coast Avifauna. 27:1-608.
  • Harris, J.H., S.D. Sanders, and M.A. Flett. 1987. Willow flycatcher surveys in the Sierra Nevada. Western Birds 18:27-36.
  • Johnson, R.R., and L.T. Haight. 1984. Riparian problems and initiatives in the American Southwest: a regional perspective. Pp. 404-412 in California riparian systems: ecology, conservation, and productive management (R.E. Warner and K.M. Hendrix, eds.). University of California Press. Berkeley. 1035 pp.
  • Johnson, R.R., L.T. Haight, and J.M. Simpson. 1987. Endangered habitats versus endangered species: a management challenge. Western birds 18:89-96.
  • Katibah, E.F. 1984. A brief history of riparian forests in the Central Valley of California. Pp. 23-29 in California riparian systems: ecology, conservation, and productive management (R.E. Warner and K.M. Hendrix, eds.). University of California Press. Berkeley. 1035 pp.
  • Klebenow, and R.J. Oakleaf. 1984. Historical avifaunal changes in the riparian zone of the Truckee River, Nevada. in California riparian systems: ecology, conservation, and productive management (R.E. Warner and K.M. Hendrix, eds.). University of California Press. Berkeley. 1035 pp.
  • Phillips, A.R., J. Marshall, and G. Monson. 1964. The birds of Arizona. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona. 212 pp.
  • Schlorff, R.W. 1990. Status review of the willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) in California. Report to the California Department of Fish and Game, Department Candidate Species Status Report 90-1. 23 pp.
  • Serena, M. 1982. The status and distribution of the willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) in selected portions of the Sierra Nevada, 1982. Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game, Wildlife Management Branch Admin. Report No. 82-5. 28 pp.
  • Sharp, B. 1987. Management Guidelines for the Willow Flycatcher Region 1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Taylor, D.M. and C.D. Littlefield. 1986. Willow flycatcher and yellow warbler response to cattle grazing. American Birds 40:1169-1173.
  • Unit, P. 1987. Empidonax traillii extimus: An endangered subspecies. Western Birds 18(3):137-162.
  • Unisicker, J.E., C.A. White, M.R. James, and J.D. Kuykendall. 1984. Protecting stream environment zones to preserve water quality on the Lake Tahoe Basin. Pp. 808-814 in California riparian systems: ecology, conservation, and productive management (R.E. Warner and K.M. Hendrix, eds.). University of California Press. Berkeley. 1035 pp.
  • Valentine, B.E., T.A. Roberts, S.D. Boland, and A.P. Woodman. 1988. Livestock management and productivity of willow flycatchers in the central Sierra Nevada. Transactions of the western section of the Wildlife Society, 24:105-114.