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Duck Nest Success in the Prairie Pothole Region

Management Implications

Establishing planted cover and managing native prairies are standard procedures for providing nesting cover on managed wildlife lands in the Prairie Pothole Region. Our results substantiate the value of these 2 habitats for nesting ducks. Of the 8 habitats considered, planted cover was the most preferred and success was highest for ducks nesting in idle prairie grassland. Nest success in both habitats, however, was too low to meet goals for duck production on managed lands. Region-wide, the "sodbuster," "swampbuster," and Conservation Reserve provisions of the 1985 farm bill may reduce losses of grassland and wetland habitats and increase the amount of planted cover in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States. As a result of these programs, we predict a greater proportion of duck nests will be initiated in planted cover, as occurred in 1966-74, but a minimal impact on duck populations will occur unless mammalian predation is reduced. Predation on nesting ducks and their eggs may be reduced naturally if expanding coyote populations serve to control fox populations through competition (Sargeant and Arnold 1984). Increased use of conservation tillage, especially no-till winter wheat, may provide safer nesting habitat for ducks nesting in cropland. Duebbert and Kantrud (1987) reported a success rate of 29% for 150 duck nests found in 2,300 ha of no-till winter wheat in North Dakota in 1984-85.

The wetland base in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States is adequate to attract large numbers of breeding ducks, but our results implicate low nest success as a factor limiting population maintenance or growth. Nest success in future years will vary with farming practices and predator populations unless suitable management practices can be developed and applied.

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