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Rice and Ducks in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

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DU is restoring the natural productivity of Minnesota’s historic wild rice lakes

A half mile of paddling and we entered the lake, or rather rice field, for we could not see any water save the narrow stream we were pushing our boat in. At the first report of the gun, (fired at a stray mallard which got up in a hurry and came down again in like fashion) the mallards and teal arose with a noise like thunder all around us and all over the rice fields as far as we could see, and for two hours, as fast as we could keep the breechloaders going, we had rare sport, while our friends on shore kept up a fusilade, and assisted by their dogs, made a good bag. “Haviland,” Forest and Stream magazine, ca. 1878.

Every part of this vast continent has its unique wetland habitats and waterfowling experiences. In Minnesota—the Land of 10,000 Lakes—this habitat is shallow lakes containing wild rice. Natural wild rice historically grew from northern Iowa east to Michigan and in boreal forest lakes and ponds in Canada, as well as in much of Minnesota. Humans have capitalized on this tasty, nutrient-rich seed for thousands of years, and Native American ricing camps have been identified on many of the larger rice lakes.

Although humans continue to harvest wild rice, it is the waterfowl that use these rice lakes that draws Ducks Unlimited to their shores. More than any habitat in the forested wilds of Minnesota, it is the wild rice lakes that attract large concentrations of waterfowl. Breeding species—mallards, blue-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, Canada geese, goldeneyes, and black ducks—but also migrants passing through for only short periods in the fall and spring, such as pintails, wigeon gadwalls, and scaup; all are drawn to these shallow lakes for the nutritious grain and the heavy cover provided by rice beds. It is truly a perfect waterfowl habitat, providing food and cover for both breeding and migrating waterfowl.

Fall counts of selected rice lakes in the state have shown enormous numbers and densities of waterfowl, especially mallards and ring-necked ducks.

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