Habitat use and nesting success of seven species of dabbling ducks were evaluated in five vegetative associations within grazed mixed-grass prairie in central North Dakota. During 1976-80, 548 nests were found on 412 ha of grazed prairie for an annual average density of 27 nests/100 ha. Numbers of nests found ranged from 1/100 ha in 1977 (a drought year) to 58/100 ha in 1979 (a very wet year), reflecting the variability that may be expected in a dynamic prairie wetland environment. Nesting success ranged from an average of 23% in the western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) association to 34% in the mixed-grass association. Forty-two percent of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) nests and 35% of the gadwall (A. strepera) nests were in patches of western snowberry and/or Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii) that made up 2% of the available cover. Numbers of nests of blue-winged teal (A. discors) and northern shoveler (A. clypeata) were highest in cool-season grasses, especially green needlegrass (Stipa viridula) and western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii). Height/density (HD) of residual cover decreased exponentially with increased grazing pressure. Use of grazed prairie by blue-winged teal was maximized when the HD of residual cover was 0.5 dm or higher, as could be maintained under light grazing. Results of this study indicated that properly grazed mixed-grass prairie can provide adequate nesting habitat for dabbling ducks. We recommend that preservation and sound ecological management be focused on large tracts of mixed-grass prairie with complexes of seasonal and semipermanent wetlands.
Additional publication details
Nest sites of ducks in grazed mixed-grass prairie in North Dakota