By Craig LeShack
When discussing habitat management and what attracts ducks, many landowners automatically think agricultural crops. While it is true that grain crops provide a good source of energy, principally carbohydrates, there are other things to consider, not only from a habitat manager’s perspective (cost, equipment, baiting, and other issues) but also from a duck’s viewpoint (nutrition, food availability, etc.). When managing for waterfowl, native plant species should be considered whenever possible, especially in areas where a local agricultural base already exists. The real question you may ask is: Why?
There are several major advantages, for both the landowner and the ducks.
First and foremost, native plants (referred to as moist-soil plants when they grow in seasonal wetland areas) are more nutritionally complete than agricultural grains. Seeds from these plants contain various proteins and amino acids essential to waterfowl sustenance. While grains can be important to waterfowl at certain times in the winter, they lack the nutrients needed during the birds’ annual life cycle. Another advantage that native plants have is that they last longer in the water, giving birds a food source throughout winter. Foods such as soybeans and corn decompose more rapidly after being submerged in water and, therefore, lose their nutritional value. In addition, moist-soil plants provide a food base for a large and diverse invertebrate community that is important to waterfowl, especially females as they prepare for breeding. Some native moist-soil plants that are beneficial to waterfowl include various sedges, smartweeds, wild rice, and pondweeds, to name a few.