If You Build It They Will Come: Creek Restoration Elicits Return of Birds

A twitter of song sparrows catches the attention of a prowling bobcat that bounds off after them. A river otter can be seen floating down the creek. The serene scene may give the impression that this tract of forest was always an oasis; however, not too long ago, some may have considered this area a trash dump. 

Spare tires and other debris once clogged the dry streambeds of Putah Creek. This all began to change, however, in 2000 with a few small steps taken by a concerned community and the volunteers that helped restore the creek.

A River Runs Through It

Now officially Putah Creek Riparian reserve, located four miles west of UC Davis campus in California, this area is anything but a wasteland. By opening up the creek and improving water flow through the forest, suddenly the creek sprung to life with one key difference—the birds. Local birds depend on a healthy streamside habitat to thrive, and the concentration of birds in the area more than doubled after the river opened up. Just like tenants flocking to a new apartment complex, the healthy stream gave ample habitat space for the birds to live in.

The restored creek also improved the insect life along the streambed, providing a bounty of food for the birds to eat. These small changes cascaded throughout the ecosystem, bringing back animals like beavers, coyotes, and even an occasional bear. Like a domino effect, the small ripples of the water led to a revival of the wildlife in the forest.

Putting the Stream to Good Use

A healthy watershed isn’t just good news for the environment; it can also improve the drinking water and quality of life for the surrounding human residents. Streams naturally filter the water and can help provide clean water to the millions of Americans that depend on it. Stabilized river banks can reduce flooding and property damage caused by storm surges, which can cause water to spill over into the surrounding area. Streams and creeks can also provide countless opportunities for recreation, from fishing and birding to just playing in the stream.

Creek and streambed restoration is just one of many small steps that can be taken that can have an enormous impact on your community. You can get involved and participate in local watershed cleanups to help restore the creeks and forests near your neighborhood. There are also many other easy things you can do to protect drinking water and other environmental resources.



  • Dybala, Kristen E., Andrew Engilis, John A. Trochet, Irene E. Engilis, and Melanie L. Truan. 2018. "Evaluating Riparian Restoration Success: Long-Term Responses of the Breeding Bird Community in California’s Lower Putah Creek Watershed." Ecological Restoration 36 (1): 76-85. doi: 10.3368/er.36.1.76
  • Kerlin, Kat. 2018. “Twice as Many Birds at Putah Creek After Water Restored.” UC Davis. Accessed May 1. https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/little-creek-big-impact/
  • US Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. “Benefits of Healthy Watersheds.” Accessed May 1. https://www.epa.gov/hwp/benefits-healthy-watersheds