Waterfowl and Other Waterbirds

The Prairie Pothole Region is the most important breeding area in North America for many species of ducks.  The region supports more than 22 million breeding ducks each year, representing about 50% of the total estimated surveyed duck population of North America.  The region’s wetlands also provide critical resting habitat and food resources for many more waterfowl that migrate through the area during spring and fall.  Invertebrate and plant resources provided by the region’s productive wetlands play a critical role in duck productivity, while upland habitat, particularly grasslands, provide nesting habitat.  Conversion to agricultural, wetland drainage, and more recently oil and gas development, have resulted in substantial losses of wetland and nesting habitats since the early 1900s.  Wetland losses are estimated at 49% and 35% in North and South Dakota, respectively, and grassland losses are estimated at 67% and 53% in these states.  Intensification of agriculture in the last decade has contributed to further habitat losses.  The Conservation Reserve Program, which had provided more than 4 millions of acres of upland nesting habitat since 1985, has shrunk to less than 1 million acres. Small, shallow wetlands, critical to many dabbling ducks are most susceptible to drainage, sedimentation, invasive species, and other disturbances. The combination of a long wet cycle recently and drainage activities consolidating wetlands has altered wetland hydrology and in turn influenced food resources available to ducks. Northern Prairie is reknown for its research on waterfowl, particularly the ecology and management of prairie ducks, and remains active in the field.  Management and conservation of these migratory game birds requires clear understanding of the factors influencing waterfowl distribution, abundance, survival, and productivity. Center research continues to address research needs of DOI and the flyways. Our waterfowl research also encompasses areas beyond the PPR that are important to breeding or migrant waterfowl, such as the Platte River and Rainwater Basin of Nebraska and montane wetlands of the Intermountain West.

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