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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


For which bird species does this program provide habitat?

This program is designed to provide valuable agricultural habitat for shorebirds in fall and late winter/early spring or other periods of habitat shortfall in drought years. The bird species of interest include shorebirds, ducks, geese, swans, and cranes.

How is this program different from NRCS wetland incentive programs to create and enhance habitat for wetland-dependent migratory birds?

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with producers to incentivize bird-friendly flooding practices on agricultural land under Farm Bill conservation programs such as RCPP using federal funding. Like RCPP, we are interested in funding certain practices that are proven to work in bird habitat creation. Unlike RCPP, this is not a cost-share program nor does it pay a flat fee for practices, but rather allows farmers to name the price they would be willing to accept to create the desired habitat. While this program is intended to complement NRCS waterbird habitat incentive programs, it is a separate program, independent of NRCS.

How do I submit a bid?

Bids can be submitted by the stated deadline using the one-page form on our BirdReturns website for the BirdReturns—Delta Farmlands and BirdReturns—Wetlands programs.

Bids are evaluated based on the flooding length and the quality of the habitat. Habitat quality is determined by The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership (Audubon California, Point Blue Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy) scientists based on location, importance to birds, timing, and habitat need. Submitted bids are also evaluated by price with similar properties. The bids with the lowest cost and highest habitat scores are selected for participation.

What costs will the BirdReturns program pay for? Should all my costs for field prep be included in the bid?

Payments through this program will be made based on the bid amount ($/acre) submitted by the applicant. Growers are free to include costs they feel are reasonable. A helpful way to think about this is to focus on the additional costs incurred to create the habitat, above those costs normally incurred in the course of farming and/or hunting operations. Also, keep in mind that participants will be partially selected based on the cost-effectiveness of their bid.

Am I required to itemize the costs reflected in my bid?

No, the program does not require costs to be itemized. The bid form simply asks for a bid stated in the form of $/acre.

Will my bid be too high because I have to cover the cost of pumping water to flood my fields?

We expect that bids will vary depending upon the differing costs of participating in the program, including the cost of acquiring or pumping water. We cannot speculate on whether an individual bid will be too high.

What prices are competitive during the BirdReturns bidding process?

Since the program’s inception in 2014, growers have submitted a wide range of bids reflecting the varied costs across farms. The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership selects bids that are deemed competitive based upon the program’s conservation objectives and the available budget. Bids are evaluated based on duration, timing, cost, and habitat value. Thus, the exact level of competition and price levels will be different for each program option.

What if I am unable to participate after I have signed a contract? What happens if I cannot establish or maintain the required field conditions?

Keeping in mind that a neighboring grower may not be selected based on the bids of those selected to participate, program success depends upon fulfilling the commitments identified in the contract. In the unlikely event that a grower is unable to fulfill their obligations, The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership may not be obligated to pay the grower for participation.

What kind of feedback will I get if my bid is not selected for the program?

The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership will tell each grower if their bid is competitive or if it has been provisionally rejected because it is too high.

My irrigation district is closed in February. Can I still participate?

Growers with limited access to reliable water during winter may participate in the program if they are confident that they can achieve the desired field conditions. We have heard from growers who intend to participate in the program using water obtained through a variety of means: surface water deliveries (including holding water starting at the date of their district’s closure through the duration of this program), pumping groundwater, etc.


I already flood my fields. Am I still eligible to participate?

Yes. In addition to adding flooded acres, the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership is interested in maintaining flooded acres of shallow water habitat that is suitable for shorebirds. In addition, the timing of the flooding period is critical for meeting bird habitat needs, so even small changes in the timing of flooding may have significant benefits for migratory birds.

Am I eligible for this program if I am currently in an NRCS or other incentive program?

Any lands that are receiving payment, through easements, mitigation, and/or other programs, to create similar habitat during the BirdReturns program are ineligible. But if your current program timeline does not overlap with the timing of this program, you are eligible to participate.

I have fallow fields that I could flood. Is this acreage eligible?

Yes. Fallow fields provide an excellent opportunity to create short-term wetland habitat for waterbirds.

Is duck hunting allowed on the fields in this program?

Yes, fields with duck hunting activities are eligible for this program. Field technicians will need to have reasonable access to the flooded acreage for bird observation and water depth monitoring for the duration of the program, but participants will be contacted prior to entry to avoid unreasonable disruptions to farming or hunting operations.

I rent the land and am not a landowner. Can I still participate?

Lessees may submit a bid and participate in this program as long as they are authorized to sign a contract of this kind. This is likely to include a consultation with the landowner to inform the landowner about the program and to ensure that this program is consistent with other management considerations and agreements concerning the property.

Mosquitoes are a serious concern in the fall – how is this program affected by mosquito concerns?

Growers should ensure they are in compliance with their local mosquito restrictions and fees. The program takes several basic precautions to reduce mosquito impacts. In early fall, fields within 3 miles of residential or commercial areas are prohibited from participating.


What specific field preparation is required? Does the program require additional practices (e.g., a roll or stomp added to chop-disc) to establish the desired field conditions? Are you asking people to roll their fields, in addition to the typical chop/disc?

Although some fields may provide suitable migratory bird habitat with no modifications to typical practices, the specific requirements and preferences of shorebirds, a key target species group, require minimal vegetation. Typical practices do not always achieve these ideal conditions. Thus, proper management of vegetation is a critical component of this program’s success and Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership’s ability to continue this incentive.

The program requires participants to achieve certain field conditions, mainly by performing post-harvest mechanical treatment(s) which disrupt the soil and encourage straw-soil mixing and straw decomposition so that the field is free of standing vegetation or matted straw.

For more information, please refer to the field condition requirements listed on the webpage for the program to which you’re applying (Delta Farmlands and Wetlands).

What specific water management is required?

Guidance on required field conditions is provided on the Delta Farmlands and Wetlands pages on the BirdReturns website or on an individual basis with interested growers. Most BirdReturns habitat programs require water management that results in the shallow-depth flood conditions preferred by migratory shorebirds.

For more information, please refer to the water management requirements listed on the webpage for the program to which you’re applying (Delta Farmlands and Wetlands).

How will required field conditions be verified?

Adequate field preparation will be verified during a site visit by field technicians as soon as possible after bids are accepted. Water depths will be monitored throughout the enrollment period.

When will program requirements be verified and monitored? Who will be on my property and when? How will we enforce the flood depth requirement?

Field technicians will visit participating fields in order to verify that the habitat conditions are being met (looking at both field preparation and water depth and duration) and to monitor for bird response. Typically, these visits will occur immediately before and during the contract period. Participants will be contacted prior to entry to avoid unreasonable disruptions to farming or hunting operations, but they must allow reasonable access to participating properties for the duration of the program.

What happens if my field does not meet the required field conditions of the program?

If your participating field is determined to be out of compliance, you will be informed and asked to adjust water levels or make other changes as needed to bring your field into compliance. If it is not possible to make requested adjustments, your payment may be reduced, per the terms of your contract. However, growers will have an option to bring their field into compliance with the program’s required conditions.

I depend on rainwater capture to flood my fields. What should I do if I submit a winning bid but am unable to flood-up to the required depths due to lack of rainfall?

We expect all selected growers to be confident that they can provide the desired habitat conditions in their field. If lack of rainfall or other extenuating circumstances prevents a grower from maintaining or establishing the habitat conditions, there may be a reduced or zero payment.

Am I more likely to be awarded a contract if I do additional passes to prepare my fields for shorebirds?

The number of passes will not be considered in bid selection. However, if selected, participants must comply with the field condition requirements to fulfill contract terms.


Is there a limit on the number of acres or funding that an individual grower can enroll?

Growers are welcome to submit multiple bids for multiple properties. There is no limit on the overall amount of payment a grower could receive.

When will I get paid?

Payments will be made within 45 days of the expiration date of the contract agreement.

Does the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership expect this funding to continue in the future?

BirdReturns has been a successful program in the Sacramento Valley, with growers providing cost-effective habitat for migratory birds, and based on this success, the Partnership is expanding the program to other parts of the Central Valley with hopes that continued success with the grower community will enable the program to continue and grow in the future.

Why are you asking for bids instead of paying a flat fee?

The bidding system recognizes that different growers face different costs to provide habitat conditions on their farms. By varying payments based on these varying costs, this program demonstrates that high-quality habitat can be delivered at a fair cost.

I have berm construction, water delivery, and other costs. Will BirdReturns payments cover my costs?

BirdReturns will not pay for specific costs but rather expects that landowners will submit bids based on what they believe it will cost to implement a practice. For some growers, these may be berm and pumping costs; for other growers, it may be irrigation district fees and expenses, or other costs.