U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Kids' Species Information

Soft Bird's-Beak

Photo: Valary Bloom, USFWS

Soft Bird's-Beak


Endangered. This means that we are afraid the species may become extinct.

But the Suisun Marsh Charter Group is working on a plan that will help the species. Also, the Concord Naval Weapons Station is protecting about 402 acres of habitat.


Soft bird's-beak grows 10 to 40 centimeters tall. (About 4 to 16 inches) It has grayish-green foliage. This is often tinged a deep red to purple. There are spike-shaped clusters of white or yellowish-white flowers. (Do you think they look like bird's beaks?)

Soft bird's-beak is partially parasitic on the roots of other plants. It doesn't seem to have a preferred host plant. Some known hosts include salt grass, pickleweed and marsh jaumea. See CalPhotos for pictures.


The upper reaches of salt grass/pickleweed marshes. At or near the limits of tidal action. See a photo of reintroduced soft bird's-beak.

Soft bird's-beak can tolerate somewhat salty (saline) soil. But this has its limits. Too much salt is stressful to the plants.

The Suisun Marsh is becoming saltier. This is because people upstream are using more water. Traditionally, this water would have diluted the salt in the Suisun Marsh.

Suisun Marsh

Photo: Angelo Garcia, Jr., Dept. of Water Resources


Seedlings grow rapidly in March when tides are low. Flowers appear between July and September. The species probably depends on insects such as bees for pollination.


Widely scattered populations in the San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay areas. Point Pinole and Fagan Slough marsh through the Carquinez Strait to Suisun Bay.


Tidal marshes in the San Francisco Bay Estuary have been affected by habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation.

San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay have lost about 3/4 of their tidal marshes.

Many of the tidal marshes in San Pablo Bay are diked and managed for agriculture. In Suisun Bay, most tidal marshes are diked and managed for wildlife, especially waterfowl.

These uses are worthwhile but they have hurt tidal marsh plant communities. Many native salt-tolerant plants have become rare.


Visit Rush Ranch, 2,070 acres of open space. It includes about 950 acres of undiked brackish tidal marsh. This area provides a home for soft bird's-beak.

Other place to explore: San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park.


Be careful what you pour down sinks. Water pollution can hurt soft bird's-beak and other species.

See What You Can Do to Help Wildlife and Plants (201 KB PDF) for more ideas.

Photo credits: Soft bird's-beak, Valary Bloom, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Suisun Marsh, Angelo Garcia Jr., CA Dept. of Water Resources

Words to Learn

Botanists call soft bird's-beak Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis. Scientific names are in Latin or Greek.

Bird's-beaks are in the Scrophulariaceae (figwort or snapdragon) family.

Hemi-parasitic: When a plant gets water and nutrients from the roots of another plant but also makes food through photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis: The process of using the energy in sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen.

Annual: a plant that completes its whole life cycle from seed to full-grown plant in one season.

Soft bird's-beak is an annual hemi-parasitic plant.

Salinity: the amount of mineral salts dissolved in water. Saline - salty water.

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Last updated: November 29, 2017