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Nesting Shorebirds Block Sacramento Area High School From Using New Turf Field

Ezra David Romero / Capital Public Radio

A nesting killdeer walks on the football field at Rio Americano High School.

Ezra David Romero / Capital Public Radio

A pair of nesting shorebirds are preventing Sacramento area high school lacrosse players from practicing and playing games on their brand new field.

Students at Rio Americano High School had hoped to be using a new cork and synthetic turf field by now. But last month construction workers found that two birds called killdeer had laid four eggs in the “I” in the Raiders logo in the east end zone.

“The type of material that's in the ground and the synthetic grass kind of mimics what they need for a nest and I think they saw it, liked it and said this is where we are going to nest,” said Principal Brian Ginter.

As a result, crews put up caution tape and set up a 60-foot perimeter around the nest. The eggs will take about 28 days to incubate, which is still two weeks out.

“For us it was only going to affect one game, so we decided to let the birds hatch,” Ginter said.

The principal isn’t surprised the birds set up shop in the end zone, because the school sits right next to a levee separating it from the American River. He says it’s common for animal sightings on campus, including hawks and rattlesnakes.

The mostly white and brown slender birds have long wings and tails and are marked by black breast bands. They mostly live in open areas like fields and airports, but nest the best near areas with access to shallow water. To distract predators they mimic like they are hurt in a “broken-wing” act.

Even though the birds aren't on state threatened or endangered species lists Ginter says the school will give the couple as much time as they need to nest. A recent Scientific Reports study found kildeer and similar birds such as snipes and terns have experienced recent declines due to rising temperatures.

“There are always going to be winners and losers [of climate change] and we have to decide what we want. Do we want the species that are native to this place? Or do we want a different species that will come eventually come and start affecting the food chain,” said UC Merced’s Mohammad Safeeq, one of the coauthors of the report. The study looked at birds that migrate through Oregon and Northern California from the six-state Great Basin.  

Shorebirds are negatively affected in the west because as temperatures rise summer arrives earlier, which reduces surface water and makes it saltier, says the report's main author, Oregon State Professor Susan Haig.

“If they don’t find water at their breeding sites, specifically fresh water, they won’t be able to survive. It’s a serious situation,” said Haig of the more than 2 million birds that fly over the southern part of the Great Basin every spring.

But back at Rio Americano spring sports that use the field are halted for the time being. Practice will continue to be held at El Camino Fundamental High School until the chicks hatch, their wings dry out and the birds decide to fly away.

"Some parents were upset. Some kids were maybe a little upset. But in the long run you're just teaching them to be patient," Ginter said. "We're sharing the world here. It's not just ours to do with what we want with. So, we decided to let the birds stay and do what they need to do.”

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