The beloved official bird of San Francisco and the state of California is now extinct in the city. Numbers of wildlife in urban parks have declined over the years, as the slow drumbeat of urbanization has led to dwindling populations, and then local extinction. The idea of reintroducing wildlife is compelling, particularly when considering iconic species like California quail, or those that have recolonized urban parks on their own, like the P-22 mountain lion in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, or coyotes in the Presidio. But it wouldn’t be wise to reintroduce wildlife without knowing why they became extinct, or without identifying the management actions most likely to sustain their populations in urban parks going forward.
Using community science records from eBird where birders record birds they see in urban parks across the state, researchers in the Urban Nature Lab found several factors contributing to consistent records of quail presence. Parks like San Bruno Mountain and Mori Point that have a large area, are less isolated from urbanization, contain less paved areas, and that have coyote populations are more likely to have thriving quail communities. Large parks in San Francisco such as Golden Gate Park and the Presidio should be big enough to support quail as long as there is not too much pavement, there are plenty of shrubs, and predators are kept in check. The results of this study indicate that due to the Presidio Trust’s habitat restoration efforts over the past 13 years and the return of coyotes, conditions are now better suited for quail reintroduction efforts than they were previously.
Looking at urban parks across the state, researchers found that parks with coyotes had a 73% higher likelihood of being occupied by quail than similar parks without coyotes. First spotted in the Presidio in 2002, coyotes have since made a comeback in the park and elsewhere in San Francisco. The presence of coyotes may be good for quail because coyotes keep populations of rats, racoons, and skunks in check; all common urban species that prey on ground-nesting quail chicks making it hard for quail populations to survive and thrive.
In addition to the proper habitat and mix of wildlife, other factors under consideration by the SFEI and Presidio Trust are traffic management—using “slow streets” or closed streets to address connectivity and vehicle mortality—and the necessity for cooperation among multiple management partners. Such collaborations could make parks functionally larger by creating green corridors through the city, which may encourage quail, and biodiversity more generally. Says Lew Stringer of the Presidio Trust: “It’s going to take the cooperation of multiple agencies that manage open spaces and parks in the City to create the conditions for success across a broad territory. Other regional parks and those in San Francisco also support a healthy coyote population, which this paper suggests is beneficial for the success of the project.”
Ongoing collaboration between SFEI and the Presidio Trust will take this work further, creating a more detailed plan for reintroduction and mobilizing support for a collaborative campaign to reintroduce quail in San Francisco.
Follow this link to download the article published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in November 2021.
Nov 4, 2021 | San Francisco Chronicle | Julie Johnson | Those wily coyotes may help bring California quail back to San Francisco
Nov 3, 2021 | San Francisco Examiner | Jessica Wolfrom | San Francisco’s quest to bring back the California quail
Nov 1, 2021 | KGO-SF (ABC) | ABC7 News | Presidio Quail Study
Nov 1, 2021 | KQED-FM | KQED News | California Quail
2020 to 2021
Programs and Focus Areas:
Resilient Landscapes Program
Urban Nature Lab