Wildlife-friendly Working Lands

Wildlife-friendly Working Lands

Millions of birds now depend on not only remaining natural habitats in California, but also the over 25 million acres that are used to produce crops.

Without wildlife-friendly agricultural practices, we could lose millions of migratory birds that call these areas home. Our challenge is to keep agriculture producing abundant food for people and providing habitat for birds. The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership is working to do just that.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership has found great success in working with rice farmers, primarily in the Sacramento Valley. As a result, migrating birds can make better use of rice fields, nesting and roosting in fields and gorging on leftover rice and other food before continuing their long journeys. The Partnership is now focused on encouraging such wildlife-friendly agriculture more widely, helping these farmers remain on the land in the long-term, and thereby reducing urban sprawl. The benefits of these activities will include improved bird and wildlife populations, vibrant agricultural communities, and the preservation of open-space as California’s population continues to grow.

Working with farmers, the Partnership is identifying and scientifically testing cost-effective field management practices that complement existing growing practices, while increasing bird benefits. We are also identifying new locations and crop types and seeking mechanisms for long-term sustainability.


Now in its 10th year, BirdReturns is a flexible, cost-effective wildlife habitat marketplace designed to increase flooded habitats for migratory birds where and when they need it most in ways that deliver multiple benefits for the farmers, wetland managers, and communities who participate. First piloted successfully by TNC in 2014, the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership is now working collaboratively with support from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to implement and broadly scale the program through 2026.

Visit the BirdReturns Site

Case Study: Rice in California

If rice farmers flood their fields after harvest at different depths and extend this flooding longer in the winter, birds have several additional weeks of prime feeding opportunities. In turn, the birds help decompose remnant rice straw and potentially fertilize the soil. The Partnership recognized that this was a perfect example of a win-win solution for birds and people, so staff set about working with farmers to test and refine farm management practices with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the California Rice Commission.

The Partnership spent three years working directly with the rice community and developing the concept with a handful of willing farmers. In August 2011, the Partnership’s work led the NRCS to introduce a nearly $3 million pilot program to give farmers incentives to manage their lands and bird habitat. Working closely with the NRCS and the California Rice Commission, the Partnership helped enroll about 75 farmers and more than 23,000 acres in the program. Based on that success, the Partnership helped the NRCS expand the program in 2012 and 2013 to over 100,000 acres. Today the program is going strong – roughly 20 percent of all rice-lands in California are participating – to the benefit of both migratory birds and farmers.

Funding available to farmers for bird conservation

Various funding programs are available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and other agencies to assist private landowners in creating and maintaining bird habitat on agricultural lands. Contact your local Resource Conservation District (RCD) to learn how to access these funds.

If you are interested in talking with someone from the Partnership about wildlife-friendly farming on your land, please contact us.