“Altacal’s mission statement charges us with the protection of native birds and their habitats. Our by-laws direct us to recommend action on local, state and national government legislation, policies and activities affecting natural resources. Altacal’s Conservation Chair and committee is tasked with keeping abreast of conservation issues and concerns, and recommending specific actions to the board. Examples of our actions include:

  • Our involvement in surveys of at-risk species such as: Tricolored Blackbirds, Bank Swallows, Western and Clark’s Grebes, and others.
  • Representing Altacal at planning and development meetings where changes to wildlife habitat are being considered.
  • Advocating on behalf of threatened, endangered and vulnerable species.
  • Engaging members in letter writing and online petitions.
  • Our support of other long-term monitoring program such as those listed below

Bank Swallows

Bank Swallows (Riparia riparia) are a threatened species in California due to their dependence on natural river processes. They are a fascinating, smallest North American swallow that burrows into the freshly eroded banks of coastal bluffs and rivers in CA. 70-90% of the California population of bank swallows breeds on the Sacramento River. Most of our rivers have been “hardened” by rock or concrete-excluding swallows from nesting. Altacal is a member of the Bank Swallow Technical Advisory Committee (BANS-TAC), a diverse group of agency and nonprofit groups formed to educate people about bank swallows and provide recommendations when projects may impact swallow habitat. The BANS-TAC has recently published a Conservation Strategy for the species. Altacal wrote and was awarded a grant to develop a brochure informing landowners about bank swallows: Bank Swallows and Incentives for Landowners along the Sacramento River.

You can help by mapping your observations of bank swallows on the “bank swallow mapper” available at this link: Bank Swallow Mapper
Also this link for information about bank swallows and how the BANS-TAC is helping their populations.

NSWO radio-tagged with rodent prey by Julie Shaw

Northern Saw-whet Owls

Northern Saw-whet Owl Migration Monitoring and Nest Box Research

Altacal is the proud sponsor of our Northern Saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) migration monitoring program with banding stations located on CSU, Chico’s ecological preserves: Big Chico Creek (BCCER) and Butte Creek (BCEP). In 2017, we added two new components to our research; we standardized our spring migration banding efforts and established a nest box program to determine potential saw-whet breeding on site. This year we are in our 15th season of fall migration monitoring. These results show that most saw-whets banded are females and migration timing occurs between October 15-November 15. We have captured one originally banded in Montana and one from Iowa, an unexpected surprise! Northern Saw-whet populations seem to rise and fall on a 4-year cycle, likely with their rodent prey. Graduate student Julie Shaw collected pellets and identified that the majority of prey items consisted of juvenile meadow voles, western harvest mice and deer mice. Her research included radio-tagging several owls and we found them roosting in densely vegetated trees and shrubs, many at eye level.  No doubt they often go unnoticed by hikers and may even be roosting in your backyard-fall through spring.

For more information about Northern Saw-whet Owls, follow these links:
Why Study Northern Saw-whet Owls
Winter Ecology of Northern Saw-whet Owls Thesis by Julie Shaw

Grebes of the Thermalito Afterbay

AAS monitors the breeding populations of Western and Clark’s Grebes at the Thermalito Afterbay. In addition to monitoring, AAS also provides Grebe educational outreach throughout the community.

AAS has been monitoring Clark’s and Western Grebes since 2004, in conjunction with California Audubon and two other Audubon chapters in northern California. AAS works with California Departments of Water and Fish and Wildlife to survey breeding populations of Grebes on the Thermalito Afterbay. Both species of grebes winter off the Pacific coast, and then migrate at night to breed and raise young in freshwater lakes. The grebes return to the Afterbay in late Spring and then chose a mate and perform their spectacular courtship behaviors. These includes choreographed head movements, presentations of water vegetation and food to one another and the incredible running on water, or rushing. Rushing is when a bonded pair run across the water together with heads pointed upward, culminating diving underwater in-sync with one another. Grebes are the largest animal on the planet that can run across water. While their young are learning how to swim, juvenile grebes will ride on their parents backs.

AAS monitors the breeding grebe population through the summer months, and also provides Grebe educational outreach year round. We provide outreach presentations in schools, at various community events and at the Thermalito Afterbay itself in the summer. Please check our upcoming events to find out when the next Grebe outreach event is happening.

If you would like to schedule a AAS Grebe presentation, please contact: Mary Muchowski – or go to

BEANS for BIRDS! This month’s special is a variety of coffee beans, 12 (12 ounce) bags for $120.00! These make great eco-friendly delicious holiday gifts! Another way that Altacal supports birds is by selling Birds & Beans certified coffee, certified healthy for birds and wildlife, coffee growers, and the planet!
Every spring in Chico and North America we are filled with beautiful birdsong and the colorful plumage of our neotropical migrant birds. They wing their way here to nest, raise their young and remain with us until fall. But their winters are spent in the tropics, which may not be as lush as we imagine. Commercial coffee (and tea and chocolate) growers decimate biodiverse forests to plant a monoculture crop.
Thanks to the compassion and common sense of some farmers, commodities like coffee, tea and chocolate are grown under a native forest, shade grown. These farms provide nesting and roosting structure, and food for birds and other wildlife.
We know you love birds. Many of you love coffee. Help us support our happy habits, and birds, by buying Birds & Beans coffee!
Go to the Beans & Birds website for more information:
Another way that Altacal supports birds is by helping the Central Valley Bird Club monitor Tricolored Blackbirds in California’s Central Valley!

The vast majority of tricolored blackbirds are currently found in California’s Central Valley. The organization devoted to the acquisition and dissemination of information on birds in the Central Valley is the Central Valley Bird Club.

Members of the Central Valley Bird Club are dedicated to the study of the distribution, status, ecology and conservation of birds in California’s Central Valley. In 2004 the Central Valley Bird Club published a special edition of its Bulletin devoted to the Tricolored Blackbird.

The 2020 Tricolored Blackbird Statewide Survey will be conducted over three days – April 3rd through the 5th, 2020. In case of severe weather, the Survey will occur over the third weekend of April. This year’s statewide survey is especially important due to the recent steep decline in abundance of the species and because the results of this year’s survey will help the Department of Fish and Wildlife to assess the bird’s status and may play a large role in justifying the Department’s recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission on whether to list the species under the California Endangered Species Act.

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