Nestcams: Life Inside the Nest

Ducks Unlimited partners with University of North Dakota to offer nest views and experience

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UND intern Jaylin Solberg works with other interns to set up nest cameras at Ducks Unlimited's Coteau Ranch.

Photo © Katy Rasmussen

Ducks Unlimited and University of North Dakota's field interns drag nests by day, but are moonlighting as videographers. The prairie nestcam project is in its third year and a new addition to the project helps viewers understand nest behavior like never before.

July update available here.

Three UND biology interns are installing video-surveillance cameras on duck nests on Ducks Unlimited's Coteau Ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota and a neighboring property. This year, one intern is focusing on science communications and will be offering background on what may be driving the birds' actions.

Ducks Unlimited and UND launched the internship program in 2015 to offer field experience to undergraduate fish and wildlife students. Field work is often required for entry-level wildlife jobs. The partners aimed to provide students hands-on experience in developing and carrying out their own field research project. Working with their UND professor, Dr. Susan Ellis Felege and DU research scientists, students learn about study design, collecting data and drawing conclusions from results. They also receive university credit for their work.

The internship program has grown substantially. In 2016, students expanded their blue-winged study to include mallard nests with additional cameras funded by a grant from the Minnesota Association of Resource Conservation and Development via the Enbridge Ecofootprint Grant Program. DU was also able to expand the project's research area onto an additional 7,000 acres of grassland through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.

DU tech Sam Krohn shows how the nestcams are set-up:

Students participating in the science communications portion of the program are working with DU communications staff and Dr. Sarah Cavanah, a UND communications professor, to gain experience in sharing conservation information to different audiences. This portion of the program has two goals: to give the interns real experience in communicating about science to the public, and to collect data on which methods work best for getting those messages out. All updates from their project will be also posted on the interns’ blog. Other behind-the-scenes updates will be posted to the @RealDuckTails Twitter and Facebook sites.

Every year, interns in the program have presented their research at national and state Wildlife Society conferences, which are attended by a wide variety of conservation professionals and students. In 2015, the two program interns won first prize in the National Wildlife Society Conference poster contest. These same students gave an oral presentation at the 2017 North Dakota State Wildlife Society Conference. The researchers are also developing a peer-reviewed publication on their work, an opportunity rarely given to undergraduate students.