The Southern California Coast Provides Critical Habitat for Imperiled Birds

Updated: May 19, 2019



The sandy shorelines of California are popular places for people to live and vacation. They also provide significant habitat for the life cycles of a variety of bird species, including some endangered and threatened species.


Springtime begins the arrival of many migratory birds to Southern California. Over 350 different species migrate along the Pacific Flyway every year. The famous cliff swallows settle into San Juan Capistrano and other recurring spots as they complete their epic travel from South America. Sandhill Cranes have returned after their long winter journey. But the coast may be one of the most important areas for some returning species. Birds like California least terns, Western snowy plovers, and brown pelicans rely heavily on the resources provided by the beaches and estuaries along California’s coast.


(CAMBRIA, CALIFORNIA) A flock of sanderlings flies along the coast looking for a beach that may provide food.

“The California least tern was one of the very first species to be put on the endangered species list right after the Endangered Species Act was created,” says Megan Flaherty, Restoration Program Manager for San Diego Audubon Society. She says the birds like to nest along the sandy shore of Southern California through summer when beaches can be especially busy. Development along the coast has also affected the birds. “Coastal habitats have been lost to development, and a big problem is that even the areas that remain to them now are oftentimes overgrown by weeds and non-native vegetation, and they just really reduce the nesting suitability for the birds,” says Flaherty.


(VENTURA, CALIFORNIA) California least terns gather along the shore for courtship, breeding, and nesting.

The western snowy plover is another bird that can be seen using the beaches during this time for their breeding and nesting activities. The