Along the fence of the bison paddock in Golden Gate Park a group of volunteers has been installing new planting designed to attract white crowned sparrows. Now that’s a contrast for you; what could link these huge beasts to these tiny song birds!? Actually, this seemingly incongruous pairing of wildlife habitats is not as random as it may appear at first glance.
Bison were first introduced into Golden Gate Park in 1891 in an effort to save the species, once so prevalent on the great plains of North America but then on the brink of extinction. Efforts to breed the bison in the park proved successful and the herd has been living in this paddock in the park since it was constructed in 1899. The herd is now managed by the staff from the San Francisco Zoo.
Like the American Bison in 1891, the Nuttalls white-crowned sparrow is currently feeling the impact of dwindling habitat, at least in Golden Gate Park.
These little birds used to be resident in the park in large numbers. Dr. Luis Baptista, Curator of Ornithology and Mammology at the Academy of Sciences from 1987 – 2000 and an expert on bird sounds, recorded and studied the calls of white-crowned sparrows in the park for many years. It was an ideal laboratory for this work.
The current white-crowned sparrow habitat restoration project is a partnership between Nature in the City and park staff. Josiah Clark, who is leading the project, first encountered these birds when he was growing up in San Francisco and worked with Luis Baptists, helping him with his research. Dr. Baptista would surely be pleased to see this effort to ensure a future for white crowned sparrows in Golden Gate Park!