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Record Waterfowl Population May Run Out Of Food In Drought-Stricken California

SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CBS13) — Central Valley wetlands are dying up, but the state expects a record number of migratory birds this year.

Biologists say the wet winter in Canada and northern United States created a perfect spring breeding season. Ducks Unlimited estimates the migratory waterfowl population to increase by 8 percent.

Migratory birds from the Arctic and prairie states, some flying more than 3,000 miles, will arrive in Central California in the next month, but conservationists worry there's not enough water or food to get many of them through the winter.

"Like coming home from vacation and having the water shut off and the grocery store down the street is closed," said Point Blue biologist Dave Shuford.

Waterfowl refuges have senior water rights and usually get allocated water from the federal and state water projects, but conservationists are worried about having water available in the Fall.

"We've had water available for the growing season, but come end of October, it's very unlikely we'll have water to flood the rice fields and rice fields have become at least 50 percent of wintering waterfowl habitat," said Ducks Unlimited director of government policy, Mark Smith.

Smith and Shuford said large numbers of birds in one area will spread disease like cholera and botulism.

"Things like botulism can cause large die offs of birds," said Shuford. "All of these birds concentrated in one area makes it much easier for those diseases to spread from one bird to the next."

The other fear is the birds will run out of food mid-December, three months before they normally fly home.

"People say 'Well, fish can't get out of the stream, but birds can fly somewhere else.' In a year like this, there're nowhere to fly," said Smith.

Point Blue and Ducks Unlimited support the water bond to fund more water to waterfowl habitats and Delta habitat restoration projects.

Shuford and Smith said if the birds don't get enough food this winter, they may not breed next year.

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