Birds of the Sierra Nevada

General Description

This introductory level field biology course will focus on the identification, natural history, ecology, seasonal cycles, and adaptations of nesting birds of the northern Sierra Nevada (See SNFC bird checklist). We will also discuss the factors controlling the local distribution of birds with respect to the major life zones and habitats of the region. In addition to broadly surveying the avian ecology of the area, we will also focus on selected species of special interest. Students will be encouraged to keep field notes of their observations. Grades are optional.

The Yuba Pass/Sierra Valley area is ideally suited to comparative bird study. Within a short distance of the field campus, habitats range from a variety of conifer forests, to alpine fell-fields, to Great Basin Desert communities. The Sierra Valley marsh, one of northeastern California's largest and most productive wetlands, is a particularly impressive area for nesting birds. Here Sandhill Cranes reach their southern breeding distribution in California, amid myriads of nesting Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Wilson's Phalaropes, Black Terns, and a host of ducks and other marsh-birds.


Dave Shuford is a full-time ornithologist with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and combines an avid interest in natural history with his enthusiasm for teaching and research. Although Dave's field work has taken him from the Arctic tundra to the Antarctic ice cap, his primary interests are the distribution, abundance, and habitat needs of California's varied birdlife. Dave currently is involved with shorebird surveys throughout the Pacific Flyway, California Gull research at Mono Lake, a breeding bird survey of the Glass Mountain area near Mono Lake, Black Tern surveys in California, and has recently published a book on the nesting birds of Marin County.

Class Schedule

Plan to arrive at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus on Saturday, June 10. We can get acquainted that evening, but the class will begin at 7:30 am on Sunday. Each day we will generally spend the morning in the field, have an afternoon break, and return to the field in the late afternoon. Lectures and discussions will be held informally in the field or in the evening. Plan on one to two evenings in the field for owls and marsh-birds. The class will end on the afternoon of Thursday.

Supplies and Other Useful Items

Field gear

Camping gear


Although days are generally warm, or even hot at lower elevations, be prepared for temperatures as low as freezing at night. Variable weather clothing that may be layered is best. Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, warm sweater and jacket, t-shirt and shorts or skirt, tennis shoes or hiking boots, sun hat, rain gear, and a warm hat or gloves for cold weather or night activities. Old sneakers, rubber boots, or hip-waders may come in handy for marsh prowling.

Miscellaneous: Day pack, sunscreen, insect repellant, alarm clock, water bottles.