MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Duck clubs are known as popular spots for hunting birds, but now they're also helping to save them.
Tiny shorebirds are in the midst of an incredible journey. Many are flying from their winter homes in South America back to the arctic. They've stopped in the Gustine area of Merced County to fuel up for the long trip.
Samantha Arthur said, "This is a key stopover path for them where they're resting and feeding to be able to make the rest of their journey north."
The birds need wetland areas with about four to eight inches of water, but those are increasingly hard to find as the drought continues.
Laura Jensen added, "Without providing them water and places to land during migration, you run the risk of overcrowding, which can lead to breakouts of disease and bird die offs."
That's why The Nature Conservancy and Audubon California are now partnering with duck clubs in the grassland water district to create more than 1,500 acres of new habitat.
Ric Ortega with the Grassland Water District & Resource Conservation District said, "It's the only water district in the country whose sole purpose is to provide water for wetland purposes."
The land owners usually only keep these impoundments flooded from August through March. Then they release the water to start growing food for the ducks they hunt in the fall and winter. But now they've agreed to keep certain areas wet about a month longer so the shorebirds have time to stop.
Bob Nardi, Land Manager for Duck Clubs, said, "It's just fantastic, if there's a way we can double up and provide the habitat for water foul and their migration at the same time provide habitat for shorebirds as they're migrating through this critical area, it's a win win for everybody."
This pilot program is privately funded by donors, and the water eventually helps recharge the aquifer.
Arthur said, "It feels great to see partners coming together particularly in this time of drought to find ways to stretch water and provide this habitat that's so needed by these birds."