Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2011

Urban Nature

Help for the Sparrows of Golden Gate Park

January 1, 2011

Every September, people flock to Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow to enjoy the arias sung during Opera in the Park. But there is another free concert at the other end of the park. Listen for a “moderately long sibilant note, a second of same length a fifth higher, followed by several repetitions of a short intermediate note.” That’s the song of the Nuttall’s white-crowned sparrow according to Birds of Golden Gate Park, published in 1930 by the California Academy of Sciences. Then, the Nuttall’s were abundant and found in “many colonies in all suitable places.” Now there are few suitable places for the birds to live. These year-round residents need open fields for foraging with patches of tall grass for hiding. They also need nearby low-growing, complex shrubbery for nesting and roosting. To give this San Francisco native a boost, park manager Gloria Koch-Gonzalez and consulting ecologist Josiah Clark have given the bird top billing in Golden Gate Park’s first species-based conservation-related restoration project, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September.

On a narrow patch of hillside in front of the bison field on John F. Kennedy Drive, a team of volunteers led by Clark has planted the same species of dune plants that once covered the area. Sticky monkey flower, California bee plant, coast buckwheat, and yellow bush lupine provide what Clark refers to as the “layers of structural complexity” needed for breeding and habitat. The goal of the project, says Clark, is to create a breeding stronghold to help build the park’s current population, which stands at 20 to 40 pairs.

Volunteers meet every third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon to work on the site. To join them, or to learn about new native plant restoration projects in Golden Gate Park, email

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.