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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Milk River Ridge

Habitat gem a part of pintail strategy
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  • photo by Ron Charest
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More than 10,000 years ago in southern prairie Canada, retreating glaciers deposited hills of sediment and rock debris. These formed moraines that are riddled with potholes, creating rare jewels of waterfowl habitat and priority conservation areas for Ducks Unlimited. Among these is Alberta's Milk River Ridge, which contains the largest undisturbed fescue prairie in North America. This is the most important waterfowl area in southern Alberta, and it has been actively conserved by DU for the past 18 years.

This area has supported exceptional waterfowl densities exceeding 80 breeding pairs per square mile. Species using ridge habitat in great numbers are pintail, gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, mallard, and blue-winged and cinnamon teal. The area is particularly important to pintails, where densities in some parts of the ridge have reached 20 pairs per square mile. While continental pintail numbers have declined over recent decades, down to 1.8 million from an average of 5.6 million in the 1970s, the habitats of the Milk River Ridge remain prime pintail real estate.

An ongoing Ducks Unlimited study of migrating female pintails has tracked them from their wintering grounds in California to migration and breeding areas. The study highlights the importance of southern Alberta habitats. Ducks Unlimited, the Tuscany Research Institute, the U.S Geological Survey (USGS), and the California Waterfowl Association have been conducting this work together since 2000. Dr. Michael Miller of the USGS is the scientific leader of the project.

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