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Drought hurts Central Valley blackbird
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FRESNO  (AP) — California’s tenacious drought is imperiling the tricolored blackbird in the Central Valley.

The Fresno Bee reported Sunday that the water shortage may force the blackbird to nest on farmland instead of dry sanctuaries. The dry conditions are also sending feed and water prices soaring, forcing farmers to plan for an earlier harvest. The unavailable sanctuaries and earlier harvests could turn out to be a deadly combination for the blackbird.

The birds perish in large numbers if nesting on farmlands undergoing harvest. Tens of thousands of them have been inadvertently wiped out at a time during a single harvest. And farmers appear reluctant to dip into a pot of money created by a financial settlement between environmental and agriculture interests to help offset the expense of a later harvest.

Most of the world’s tricolored blackbirds live in California, gather in large colonies and prefer to nest in tall reeds with water beneath them, said Garrison Frost of Audubon California. With those spots dry, the birds flock to wheat farms.

Environmentalist and farmers fear the bird will land on Endangered Species Act protection lists if current conditions persist.

Farmers fear a listing will place restrictions on their operations. Environmentalists are concerned a listing will underscore the birds’ precarious nature.

The 3 million blackbirds in California in the 1930s have dwindled to about 250,000 today.

“The tricolored blackbird has been on a downward spiral since 2006,” said researcher Robert Meese of the University of California, Davis. Meese and others fear the birds’ population will fall to 100,000 or fewer.