BirdReturns is the result of collaboration with several key partners whose advice and assistance has helped make the program possible. These partners help by providing a practical understanding of conservation practices in agricultural fields, connecting the Conservancy with growers and key stakeholders, and helping develop the scientific foundations for BirdReturns.


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The California Rice Commission is a critical partner, providing input on the program’s design, development and implementation. The Rice Commission convenes growers who are willing to advise the Conservancy, as well as initiates connections with potential participants.

BirdReturns is also benefiting from the California rice industry’s interest in investing rice industry funds donated to the newly formed California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation. A portion of the funds generously donated to the Foundation have been granted to TNC to invest in additional ricelands habitat conservation projects.


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BirdReturns is based on the experiences and relationships developed through the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, a collaboration between Audubon California, Point Blue Conservation Science and the Conservancy. The Partnership has had incredible success working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the California Rice Commission to develop NRCS’s Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP). Through WHEP, more than 100,000 acres of ricelands are being managed to benefit migratory birds. BirdReturns was developed to complement WHEP by providing alternate opportunities for growers to engage in conservation.

Point Blue partnered with the Conservancy to develop the water availability study that guides when and where habitat is targeted through BirdReturns. Scientists at Point Blue advise the Conservancy on bird response monitoring and experimental design to evaluate the ecological impacts of BirdReturns.

Audubon advises the Conservancy on grower outreach and program implementation.



The use of big data analytics and precision science to optimize habitat was made possible through a partnership with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. By applying models for predicting bird occurrence based on millions of crowd-sourced bird sightings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program, Conservancy scientists can predict where and when birds are likely to be found in weekly increments.