A Global Currency for Bird Conservation

A global initiative of BirdLife International, implemented by Audubon and local partners in the United States, the Important Bird Areas Program (IBA) is an effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. By working with Audubon chapters, landowners, public agencies, community groups, and other non-profits, Audubon endeavors to interest and activate a broad network of supporters to ensure that all Important Bird Areas are properly managed and conserved.

Coupled with global warming, habitat loss and fragmentation are the most serious threats facing populations of birds across America and around the world. By working to identify and implement conservation strategies at Important Bird Areas, we hope to minimize the effects that habitat loss and degradation have on birds and other biodiversity. If we do not take action, populations of many birds may decline to dangerously low levels.


Merced Grasslands IBA

Adopted by Yosemite Area Audubon Society.


Map of Merced Grassland IBA

Map of Merced Grasslands IBA


Target Species of the IBA

Species Criteria Proposed Criteria Confirmed Assessment Date
 Burrowing Owl
 Ferruginous Hawk
 Golden Eagle
 Grasshopper Sparrow
 Loggerhead Shrike
 Long-billed Curlew
 Long-eared Owl
 Northern Harrier
 Short-eared Owl
 Swainson’s Hawk
 Tricolored Blackbird
 Yellow-breasted Chat


Site Description

The uncultivated Central Valley floor of eastern Merced Co. protects the largest and most varied complex of vernal pool-rich grassland in California. Following the area’s surprisingly recent discovery by botanists, several new species of plants and invertebrates have been found here, a few of which occur nowhere else on earth (Holland 2000). This vast, undulating prairie (characterized by mima mounds) then sweeps south along the base of the Sierra foothills, nearly to the San Joaquin River north of Fresno, though its widest portion is currently centered along La Paloma Rd. in eastern Merced Co.

Ornithological Summary

For birds, this region has traditionally been a major wintering area for large concentrations of raptors, most of which do not occur in the wooded areas of the Sierra foothills or in the agricultural lands of the Central Valley Floor. Though quantitative investigations have only begun, species like Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, and Golden Eagle occur in as high concentrations as anywhere in the San Joaquin Valley. Also in winter, the grassland is alive with hundreds of Long-billed Curlews and thousands of grassland sparrows, particularly Vesper and Savannah, which occur in large flocks with large numbers of Horned Larks. The riparian birds of this IBA, like other San Joaquin Valley sites, are less well known than the raptors, but the areas with the greatest potential include the Merced River bottomland habitat east of Snelling (Merced County), Mariposa Creek along White Rock Road (Mariposa County), and below the dam spillways of several reservoirs (e.g. Hensley Lake, Madera County).

Conservation Issues

Issues include the construction of a new University of California campus northeast of Merced (originally slated directly atop the heart of the vernal pool area but since realigned); ongoing urban sprawl north and east from the cities of Madera and Merced that continues to whittle away at the western edge of this IBA (especially along Road 400, Madera County); the expansion of orchards eastward from SR 99, proceeding relatively rapidly within Madera County; and numerous proposals to channelize and dam streams in the area for “flood control” and eventually for agricultural and urban development.

Grazing practices throughout this IBA are highly variable and may greatly affect bird diversity or abundance. This area has become a high priority for The Nature Conservancy in California, which has been obtaining easements on ranches and riverfront property throughout the IBA (S. Johnson, pers. comm.).

Land Use

To be determined.


This area contains one of the largest and most varied complex of vernal pool-rich grassland in California.

Assessment Date % of IBA Habitat
2008 Wetlands
Herbaceous Upland/Grassland/Herbaceous/Grassland
Herbaceous Planted/Cultivated/Fallow/Rural/Agriculture
Wetlands/Emergent Herbaceous Wetlands/Other



Assessment Date % of IBA Ownership
2008  –  Individual
 –  For Profit/Other
 –  Non-profit/Land Trust – The Nature Conservancy/Other




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