Cover photo for Bird Returns Delta Farmlands

Bird Returns Delta Farmlands

The Nature Conservancy,
Delta Conservancy

The objective of the BirdReturns-Delta Farmlands Fall Program is to incentivize farmers to create wetland habitat during the critical habitat window in early fall by maintaining shallow-flooded conditions on fallow or harvested fields for at least 21 days between August 28 and October 13, followed by a two-week drawdown period. Participants are selected via an open bidding process. To qualify, fields must have minimal standing vegetation (or stubble) so that shorebirds can easily access the ground surface for foraging. In fields that have recently been in production, some incorporation of crop residue must take place to expose the soil, but tillage should be light so as not to bury all the leftover small grains which are an important food for waterfowl and other species.


Eligible Applicants

  • Fallow or harvested fields in the Delta that are managed for elimination of crop stubble and vegetation. (Most field crops are suitable, including but not limited to wheat and other cereal grains, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, potatoes, sunflower, safflower, corn, rice, or fallow fields.)

  • Fields with a minimum of 30 acres

  • Farmers with access to ground and/or surface water

Ineligible Applicants

  • Fields enrolled in any annual incentive program (i.e., NRCS EQIP) that provides payment to conduct flooding during the same time window (August 28 – September 30)

  • Within 5 miles of major airports, including Beale AFB, Sacramento International, Travis AFB, Fresno-Yosemite International and Lemoore Naval Air Station

  • Fields less than 30 acres in size

  • Fields located within 3 miles of incorporated cities (Mosquito Vector Control District exclusion zones)


Enrolled land must meet the following habitat requirements

  • Flooding: Flood and maintain depths between 2-4 inches throughout flooding period

    • In sloping fields, the shallow end should be maintained at approximately 2 inches; the deep end may be greater than 4 inches; however, if possible, cross-field berms should be installed to maximize shallow depths

    • Fields that are uniformly deeper that 4 inches are ineligible

  • Post-harvest stubble management required – a combination of any of the following post-harvest crop stubble treatments and incorporation practices may be used to meet our field condition requirements: burn, chop, roll, bale, single pass disc, single pass chisel, or stomp (see below for examples of suitable and unsuitable conditions)

  • Gradual drawdown required: after the required flooding period (one week of flood up, and a minimum of two weeks of flooding), reduce water levels incrementally over two weeks

Application Instructions

To apply for the program, submit a bid specifying the acres and duration you are willing to flood, along with the dollar amount per acre that you need to recover your costs for creating the habitat.


Release Date

July 15, 2024

Financial Instrument


Updated March 27, 2024

Image Credit: Andreas Weilguny

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