Pinnacles National Park contains large areas of undisturbed chaparral and woodland, as well as riparian corridors. These provide critical habitat for central coast birds.
The protected status of Pinnacles and the quantity, quality, and variety of its habitats offer a unique opportunity for bird studies in California’s central coast. In 1996, the National Park Service (NPS) identified birds as a major component of ecosystems to be inventoried and monitored. NPS had conducted a systematic bird inventory at Pinnacles in 1984-1985, and repeated these surveys in 1998-1999. In 2000, a presidential decree added 8,000 more acres of land to Pinnacles. In 2001 and 2002, NPS contracted with Point Blue Conservation Science to inventory the new lands as well as some historic areas not previously surveyed. These data were meant to complement existing data from the interior of the park. This inventory data provided baseline information for the formation of the riparian landbird monitoring program at Pinnacles National Park, which initiated in 2015. NPS staff also record confirmed observations by employees and Visitors.
NPS staff undertook landbird surveys at 71 point count stations in 1984-1985, and 66 of those same stations in 1998-1999. During 2001-2002, Point Blue surveyed nine transects totaling 92 point count stations.
Researchers established point count transects and stations in three major habitat types: chaparral, pine-oak woodland, and riparian woodland. At each point count station, researchers conducted a five-minute census during peak singing hours, noting songs, calls, and visual detections. During the 1984-1985 and 1998-1999 surveys, researchers censused each station six times in winter and six times in spring. During the 2001-2002 survey, researchers censused each station two to three times in the spring only. The bird detection data allowed researchers to derive information on bird diversity, species richness (a count of the different bird species present), and relative abundance. Species detected beyond 50 meters from each point and species not well sampled by the point count method (raptors, swifts, swallows, waterbirds, shorebirds, etc.) were not included in statistical analysis. The 2001-2002 survey also established 24 area search plots (17 surveyed in winter and 7 surveyed in breeding season) to augment the point count data and inventory winter landbirds.
Researchers recorded a total of 113 bird species through the three inventories (83 in 1985, 93 in 1999, and 96 in 2002). The certified bird list for Pinnacles, as of 2009, includes 180 species present in the park based on these inventories, monitoring, and other confirmed sightings.
- The Western Meadowlark and Yellow-billed Magpie were among the birds observed in 2002 (but not in 1985 or 1999), likely as a result of the expansion of park lands.
- In the 2002 point count and area search surveys, 60 species were found in chaparral, 68 in pine-oak woodland, and 74 in riparian areas. In each of the three point count inventories (1985, 1999, 2002), riparian woodlands featured the highest species richness, or number of species observed.
- Although chaparral was low in species richness in all three inventories, eight species were more common in chaparral than in other habitats in the 2002 inventory.
- 37% of the bird species known to occur at Pinnacles have been recorded only through observations by employees and visitors, including during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Please help us by reporting any unusual wildlife sightings.
Species listed as "Present in Park" on the 2009 Pinnacles certified bird list:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Jay Clark’s Nutcracker
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
San Francisco Bay Area Inventory & Monitoring Network
Pacific Coast Science & Learning Center
Monitoring Protocol - Download from NPS Data Store
Pinnacles Bird Page - Download the Pinnacles Bird checklist (with breeding status in park and abundance by month and habitat)
Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Haff, T.M., G. Ballard, G.R. Geupel, and D. Humple. 2003. Landbird inventory of the Pinnacles National Monument. A Final Report to the National Park Service. Point Blue Conservation Science.
San Francisco Bay Area Network Species Lists - view Certified Species lists including residency, abundance, and native/non-native status.
Summary by Alison Williams, San Francisco Bay Area Inventory & Monitoring Network, April 2009. Updated December 2017.
Download PDF from the NPS Data Store
Last updated: May 7, 2018