MCCLUSKY, N.D., – The hills are alive with breeding ducks. Conditions in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) are excellent for waterfowl production. And birds are taking full advantage of the food and nesting cover available to them.
“When I’ve been out in the field, there were ducks everywhere. We’re seeing lots of breeding ducks, and all indications are we’ll have lots of hens nesting this year,” said Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited’s (DU) Great Plains Regional Office (GPRO). “We have had very wet conditions on the prairies, and that has caused many of the seasonal wetlands to be full of water and exploding with duck food.”
This spring DU research crews are searching winter wheat fields looking for duck nests to see how nests fare in fall-planted cereal crops compared to other nesting habitats.
Ducks researchers found these duck species already nesting on the prairie:
- Northern pintails
- Blue-winged teal
- Northern shovelers
Ducks expected to begin nesting soon:
Samples taken from prairie wetlands were teaming with aquatic invertebrates, a vital food resource for nesting hens. “The potholes were loaded with water boatmen, midges, snails and other invertebrates,” said Steve Adair, director of operations for GPRO. “It also looks like we will have no shortage of mosquitoes this summer.”
Stephens says with last year’s excellent duck production he expects waterfowl populations have increased. “And if the birds breeding here now experience good production again, as we suspect they will, then populations should be in good shape,” he said.
Prior to last year, conditions on the prairie were much dryer and bird populations dropped. “We’re pleased to see favorable wetland conditions again this year,” Stephens said. “We’re especially pleased about rebounding pintail numbers because they’ve been below population objectives for some time. Good conditions on the prairie should facilitate improved populations.”
One dark cloud in these promising waterfowl conditions is the continued loss of native prairie and Conservation Reserve Program grasslands. “Waterfowl and many other birds nest in grass. If the grass isn’t there, full wetlands are not enough to keep duck populations stable,” Adair said. “We continue to be very concerned about keeping grass in the PPR, which produces about 70 percent of the continent’s waterfowl when conditions are wet like this year.”
“From a continental perspective, we’ll need production from the Canadian prairies and the boreal forest if the fall flight of ducks is to be maintained,” Stephens said.
Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.