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Duck Nest Success in the Prairie Pothole Region


The Prairie Pothole Region of the northcentral United States and southcentral Canada is vital to the production of North American ducks; it contains only 10% of the continental breeding range but produces about 50% of the ducks (Smith et al. 1964). Duck production, however, has varied greatly among years because of changes in abundance of wetlands caused by erratic precipitation patterns (Crissey 1969) and because many wetlands have been drained. Agriculture and predators also affect duck production. Because of recent declines in numbers of several waterfowl species (U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv. 1986) and low nest success rates documented in unpublished studies, biologists are concerned that too few ducks are being produced in the Prairie Pothole Region to maintain breeding populations at current levels.

Nest success rate is a critical determinant of duck production and size of the fall flight (Cowardin and Johnson 1979, Johnson et al. 1987). Mortality of females, which is inversely related to nest success, and mortality of ducklings are also important factors.

The purpose of our study was to make regional estimates of nest success of mallard, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, and northern pintail from >15,000 records of nests found in the United States portion of the Prairie Pothole Region (Fig. 1). Supplemental information on breeding population levels, nesting habitat availability, and habitat use by nesting ducks was also collected to account for differences among species and to overcome unrepresentative sampling efforts among regions, habitats, and time periods.

We acknowledge the numerous cooperators who contributed nest records for entry into the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (NPWRC) nest record file, particularly personnel of NPWRC, National Wildlife Refuges and Wetland Management Districts, Mid-Continent Waterfowl Management Unit, and state wildlife agencies in the Central Flyway. K. F. Higgins, H. W. Miller, M. J. Rabenberg, and A. B. Sargeant reviewed the manuscript.

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