Paul Spitzzeri

19th century America’s burgeoning population and the explosive popularity of game hunting was such that the conservation of certain species became a major concern and dovetailed with the growing movement to protect natural wonders and encourage outdoor recreation. In California, it was a shock to some when the last grizzly bear, the official state animal, was hunted and killed in 1922 and the final sighting of one was two years later.

In greater Los Angeles, abundant open spaces and large swaths of coastal wetlands drew enormous populations of migratory birds and the shooting of pigeons, quail and others was an enormously popular pastime for the region’s avid hunters.  Yet, by the 1920s, the population of these birds was being driven rapidly downward and, with a growing scientific and bureaucratic community at the state level, actions were taken to deal with the problem.

At Yountville in the Napa Valley, the state opened a bird farm to breed pigeons, turkeys, partridges, pheasants, quail and other birds and a site was soon sought in southern California.  The Davidson Investment Company, the owners of the Los Serranos subdivision, on which the country club was opened in 1925 and residential tracts developed to the north toward the man-made Lake Los Serranos, offered 30 acres to the state for the farm.  For a while, the golf course was floated as a possible location, as the facility was not doing well economically in those early years.

By April 1928, Los Serranos, having the desired soil and drainage conditions, was in the top three of regional locales in the running and, in early June, the deputy state game warden announced that it fit the bill after it was recommended by the director of natural resources and approved by the game commission.  The Champion of June 5 took the opportunity to note not only the beauty of the site, but its historical character, though it erred in claiming it was the original Chino Ranch headquarters and scene of the 1846 Battle of Chino—these were instead at the Boys Republic property to the northwest. The site was, however, the “Home Ranch” of ranch manager Joseph Bridger and of Chino founder Richard Gird and had its own interesting historical associations. Delays followed involving perfecting title to the property, but this was worked out by early 1929.

The first construction contracts were let by June, and work took wings with the construction of pens, walkways, driveways, employee housing and other structures in Spanish Colonial Revival style, and it was publicized that the facility was to be the largest of its kind in the world.  There were, however, some problems.  The Izaak Walton League, a conservation organization formed in 1922, arranged for coyote hunts to limit predatory damage to newly nested birds from Napa, but Chinese pheasants were blamed, in summer 1929, for depredations at local watermelon farms.

Still, by October, some 8,000 birds were at the farm with a partial crew on site to manage their charges.  On December 8, the grand opening was held and between 5,000 and 8,000 guests (almost as many as the resident population) toured the site and enjoyed a barbeque lunch held by the Walton league.  Trap and target shooting, a fishing contest at the lake, and games with live birds as prizes were included.  After the obligatory orations, thirty pheasants were released to cap the day.

The bird farm flew the coop in 1960, when operations were transferred, to save money, to the nearby California Institution for Men prison.  The farm site, already partially used for the purpose, became a fish management station to track wild stocks (including reptiles and amphibians) in the region.  After the station was shuttered, the property remained unused for many years, but the Chino Valley Unified School District, which had eyed the land since the 1950s, acquired it and built Chapparal Elementary, which opened in 2006, while the City of Chino Hills opened Los Serranos Park next to the school in 2019.  The long avian history of the site is best known today because of Bird Farm Road, on which the school and park are located.

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