Worldwide, rice (Oryza sativa) agriculture typically involves seasonal flooding and soil tillage, which provides a variety of microhabitats and potential food for birds. Water management in rice fields creates conditions ranging from saturated mud flats to shallow (<30 cm) water, thereby attracting different guilds of birds. Grain not collected during harvest (i.e. waste rice) is typically the most abundant potential food of birds in rice fields, with estimates of seed mass from North America ranging from 66672 kg/ha. Although initially abundant after harvest, waste rice availability can be temporally limited. Few abundance estimates for other foods, such as vertebrate prey or forage vegetation, exist for rice fields. Outside North America, Europe and Japan, little is known about abundance and importance of any avian food in rice fields. Currently, flooding rice fields after harvest is the best known management practice to attract and benefit birds. Studies from North America indicate specific agricultural practices (e.g. burning stubble) may increase use and improve access to food resources. Evaluating and implementing management practices that are ecologically sustainable, increase food for birds and are agronomically beneficial should be global priorities to integrate rice production and avian conservation. Finally, land area devoted to rice agriculture appears to be stable in the USA, declining in China, and largely unquantified in many regions. Monitoring trends in riceland area may provide information to guide avian conservation planning in rice-agriculture ecosystems.
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Avian foods, foraging and habitat conservation in world rice fields