California Gnatcatcher: A Crystal Cove Success Story

As spring begins drawing in visitors from near and far, Park visitors may catch a glimpse of another Cove dweller that was once a rare sight: the California Gnatcatcher, whose resurgence is one of the Park’s great conservation success stories!

California Gnatcatchers almost exclusively forage and breed in coastal sage scrub, a plant community uniquely found along the coast of California and northern Baja California. Over the past few decades, the California Gnatcatcher’s habitat has been lost to development along the coast of Southern California, endangering the species and making sightings increasingly uncommon.

But habitat restoration efforts have brought about the reestablishment of this beloved and endangered native bird species within Crystal Cove State Park.  The State Park’s Natural Resource Management team has worked hard to restore a healthy diverse habitat of coastal sage scrub to help these birds thrive.  They continue to monitor the California Gnatcatcher population along the bluffs twice a year, once for the beginning of breeding season in April, and once after breeding season ends.

After the most recent round of monitoring on the coastal area of Crystal Cove in April, the Natural Resource Management team reported that Crystal Cove’s California Gnatcatcher population is doing well.

“We had 25 nesting pairs in 2015,” says Hailey Laskey, a Natural Resource Management intern who conducted April’s pre-breeding surveys. “I am happy to say we have the same this year as well. They appear to have occupied all suitable areas of coastal sage scrub on the 3.2 miles of bluffs.”

Next time you visit the Cove, keep your eyes and ears open for this little bird. To identify the call of the California Gnatcatcher, listen for a sound similar to a kitten mewing. You can also participate in Crystal Cove Alliance’s Field Science Saturday on May 14th to help identify gnatcatchers within the Berns Environmental Study Loop, or go birding with a State Park docent on the first Saturday of every month.

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