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Techniques for Studying Nest Success of Ducks in Upland Habitats in the Prairie Pothole Region


To assess the fate of nests of ducks in upland habitats over broad areas it is essential to obtain data on large numbers of nests. From 1969 to 1985, personnel at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (NPWRC) conducted duck nesting studies at many locations in the north-central United States and south-central Canada. During these studies, emphasis was on collecting samples of viable nests in upland habitat by flushing hens with cable-chain or chain drags pulled by all-terrain vehicles. Common upland nesters in the prairie pothole region include mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), gadwall (A. strepera), American wigeon (A. americana), green-winged teal (A. crecca), blue-winged teal (A. discors), northern shoveler (A. clypeata), northern pintail (A. acuta), and lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).

Most techniques used in these duck nesting studies have been described in published reports. While instructing many field assistants, however, it became apparent that having a training manual containing selected techniques would be convenient. In addition, with increased use of nesting studies in waterfowl research and management in the prairie pothole region, investigators desired standardized procedures so that comparable results could be attained. Standardized procedures became especially important after newer and less biased methods for computing nest success were developed (Mayfield 1961, 1975; Miller and Johnson 1978; Johnson 1979; Bart and Robson 1982).

We selected for this manual techniques that are effective and readily standardized. By using these techniques we were able to meet the objectives of a variety of research projects during a 15-year period. Because we recognize that there are other procedures that may be better suited for some studies, we have cited some alternatives, but have not described them in great detail.

This manual contains: (1) a description of methods for finding nests and marking their location; (2) identification of essential data and tips for collecting and recording them; (3) considerations for determining the number and dates of nest searches; and (4) a description of methods for calculating nest success.

We describe one way of obtaining and evaluating nesting data to estimate nest success. A discussion of study design is not included because the objectives of nesting studies vary widely and do not lend themselves to a "cookbook" treatment. There is a temptation to undertake nesting studies because nest success is an important component of recruitment, and nest characteristics can readily be measured. Unfortunately, many studies fail to meet their objectives because of poor design and inadequate samples. We cannot overemphasize the importance of preparing a sound study design before initiating nesting studies.

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