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What is the Wash?

Bird Monitoring Program

The Las Vegas Wash provides critical avian habitat in the arid Mojave Desert. More than 50 percent of all breeding birds in the southwest depend on riparian areas at some point in their breeding cycle and many species are riparian or wetland obligates. Wash stabilization activities are deterring further wetland loss, reducing sedimentation to Lake Mead and enhancing wetland and riparian habitat through revegetation with native species. This should have a positive impact on the bird community in the Wash.

A list of the birds of the Wash was compiled by retired birder Carolyn Titus of the Red Rock Audubon Society (RRAS) in 1997, but included historic as well as recent observations. Given that the Wash had changed dramatically since the 1970s as a result of erosion and habitat degradation, the Las Vegas Wash Project Coordination Team needed to develop an inventory of the bird species currently using the area. Thus, in 2000, the Wash Team teamed with RRAS to begin a bird census collecting baseline data and documenting changes in diversity and abundance as weir construction and habitat restoration progressed. This program identified 140 species at two sites along the Wash. Although that census ended in 2006, avian monitoring along the Wash continues.

Southwestern willow flycatcher
Southwestern willow flycatcher

The avian point count study was conducted from 2005 to 2011. In this study, biologists counted birds at more than 30 sites spread throughout a variety of habitats along the Wash. This survey identified 185 species using Wash habitats, including more than 40 species that were not detected by the previous study.

Currently, there are three avian surveys conducted at the Wash. As a result of recommendations in the Las Vegas Wash Wildlife Management Plan, the Wash Team initiated aquatic bird counts in 2009. As the name implies, the surveys specifically target waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds that inhabit aquatic environments. Surveys are conducted at most of the weirs along the Wash and off-channel wetland sites in the in-lieu mitigation ponds.

The remaining bird surveys involve monitoring for federally endangered bird species. Targeted surveys for the endangered Yuma clapper rail have been conducted on the Wash since 2000. In 2007, the Wash Team initiated secretive marsh bird surveys to enable biologists to collect data for other species that use the same wetland habitat, and since 2008, after receiving the necessary federal permit, Yuma clapper rail monitoring has been included in these surveys. Monitoring also includes Virginia rail, sora, and least bittern, among others. The surveys are conducted in April and May each year.

Surveys for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher have been conducted along the Wash since 1998. These surveys run from mid-May into July and are conducted by federally permitted biologists. Migrant willow flycatchers are detected in the Wash nearly every year, moving through the area to their breeding sites. However, in 2008, a resident male southwestern willow flycatcher established a breeding territory in the Wash. Although the bird was unable to attract a mate, the detection marked a major milestone in the Wash restoration effort.

Through the above surveys and with the help of sightings reported by expert birders, the Wash Team has compiled a list of approximately 250 species of birds using the Wash since 1998.

Las Vegas Wash Project Coordination Team • 100 City Parkway, Suite 700 • Las Vegas, NV 89106 • (702) 822-3300