Rogue Valley
Audubon Society
Great Grey Owl
Photo by
Terry Steele
The owl, that bird of onomatopoetic name, is a repetitious question
wrapped in feathery insulation especially for Winter delivery
- Hal Borland, "Questions," Sundial of the Season
Birds of the
Klamath-Siskiyou Region

By Pepper Trail
Rogue Valley Audubon Society
PO Box 8597
Medford, OR 97501
Something to ponder: "The last word of ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good
is it?' If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.
If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like, but do not understand, then who but a
fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of
intelligent tinkering."
Aldo Leopold, The Sand County Almanac
The Klamath Flock: Birds of Our Bioregion

It is a November day in the Colestin Valley. A gray winter fog fills
this hollow in the eastern foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains,
deadening sound. But the silence cannot last. It is abruptly
shattered by an explosion of avian outrage. A group of acorn
woodpeckers is in full cry, calling for reinforcements to defend
their granary tree - their precious storehouse of acorns - from a
marauding black-billed magpie. The black and white wings of
defenders and attacker flash around and around the tall pine
snag, until the magpie finally swoops away, a hard-won acorn
clamped in its beak.

This confrontation could occur nowhere else on earth than in
our very own Klamath-Siskiyou region. Acorn woodpeckers are
the quintessential birds of California's golden oak-covered hills.
Black-billed magpies are the spirit of an entirely different world,
the raw-boned interior West of junipers and sagebrush. It's like
watching a group of Silicon Valley investors in a showdown with
a high plains drifter. These birds, and their environments, are
separated for most of their range by the towering barrier of the
Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range. But there is a gap in this
mountain wall north of Mount Shasta, and through this gap flows
a river of life, creating a great biological whirlpool that stirs the
Great Basin together with the Pacific Coast, and enriches the
treasure-trove of biodiversity that is the Klamath-Siskiyou.
Oregon!). The mobility and adaptability of birds means that, in contrast to plants, there are no bird
species completely restricted to the Klamath-Siskiyou. However, the region is the range limit for
many birds, emphasizing the area's ancient status as a refuge in an ever-changing world. Birds
flock to the Klamath-Siskiyou from all directions. The accompanying table summarizes some of the
species that reach the limit of their distribution in the region, and the environments that they

Much remains to be learned about the breeding distributions and habitat requirements of birds in
our region. A small sample of the birds whose breeding range in the Klamath-Siskiyou is poorly
known include: hooded merganser, band-tailed pigeon, flammulated owl, calliope hummingbird,
canyon wren, vesper sparrow, and evening grosbeak. A major initiative, the Klamath
Demographic Monitoring Network, has recently begun to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. This
group, coordinated by the Redwood Sciences Laboratory at Humboldt State University in Arcata,
is a consortium of private, local, state, and federal organizations involved in bird survey and
monitoring in the region. The network operates more than 8,000 point count stations and
mist-netting sites, extending from the headwaters of the Rogue and Klamath Rivers on the north
and east to the Sacramento and the Eel Rivers on the east and south. The goal of the effort is to
inventory bird populations, document changes in these populations over time, and investigate
factors that may be responsible for population change.

The region's complex patchwork of habitats provides many opportunities for research on
ecological relations, competition, and coexistence among birds. For example, the Siskiyous are
one of the few places in North America where four members of the chickadee family occur
together: the oak titmouse, black-capped chickadee, chestnut-backed chickadee, and mountain
chickadee. How do these species, all of a similar size and with similar feeding habits, manage to
coexist? Another fascinating puzzle is the range boundary between the very similar rufous and
Allen's hummingbirds in south-coastal Oregon. What environmental changes in this narrow zone
tip the competitive balance from favoring rufous hummingbirds north of the Bandon area, to
favoring Allen's hummers south of it?

Questions like these are not merely of scientific interest. To understand how to conserve our
birds, we need to know how adaptation, competition, and reproduction operate, particularly in
small populations. Populations of many North American birds are declining due to continued
habitat loss and fragmentation. Logging roads and clearcuts expose forest interior species to
threats including starlings (a major nest competitor), brown-headed cowbirds (a brood parasite),
and opossums (a voracious predator on eggs and nestlings). In the face of these threats,
populations of vulnerable species such as the hermit warbler, olive-sided flycatcher, and western
tanager could ultimately become too small and inbred to survive.

Because of the Klamath-Siskiyou bird community's diversity and variability, its preservation is an
essential part of any overall effort to protect the avian biodiversity of North America.
Unfortunately, the existing system of designated wilderness areas and other preserves is not an
adequate sanctuary for our birds. There is a critical need for more protected land, particularly at
low elevations, in the coastal strip, and in wetland habitats, as well as for more extensive
biological corridors to maintain connections between scattered populations of higher elevation
species. Some specific areas that are known to provide vital bird habitat but are not adequately
protected include the Klamath River canyon, the Shasta and Scott Valleys, Lake Earl near
Crescent City, and the eastern Siskiyou crest.

The good news is that the Klamath-Siskiyou, with its long biological history and diversity of
habitats, appears to be a stronghold of genetic variety. To date, the genetics of only two bird
species have been examined in the Klamath-Siskiyou, and both exhibited very high levels of
genetic diversity compared to other populations of these species across the West. Even more
than a treasure trove of species, the Klamath-Siskiyou region may represent a reservoir of
genetic variation. This rich variability could prove crucial in the ability of species to respond to
long-term environmental changes, such as global warming.

For as long as human beings have lifted their heads to watch an eagle cross the sky, or paused to
listen to the melody of a wren, birds have nourished our spirits. They are the most familiar and
the most appreciated of an wild creatures, and a world without them would be barren indeed. In
the Klamath-Siskiyou, we are blessed with a great company of these feathered companions. We
must work with understanding, care, and love to assure that we will always be able to enjoy that
pure and unconditional gift: the song of wild birds.

Selected bird species reaching a range limit in the Klamath-Siskiyou, with their primary habitats.

Ash-throated flycatcher
Oak titmouse
Blue-gay gnatcatcher
California towhee
Arid Scrub/Chaparral:
California thrasher
Black-chinned sparrow
Sage sparrow

Riparian Hardwoods/Mixed Conifer:
Ruffed grouse
Black-capped chickadee
Rufous hummingbird

High-Elevation Conifers and Meadows:
Great gray owl
Calliope hummingbird
White-headed woodpecker
Clark's nutcracker
Mountain bluebird
Montane chaparral:
Prairie falcon
Blacked-billed Magpie
Great Basin Shrub-Steppe:
Prairie falcon
Black-billed magpie

Coastal and Valley Chaparral:
Allen's hummingbird
Riparian Hardwoods:
Red-shouldered hawk
Black phoebe