Pintails and Cropland: An Ecological Trap
Nest site selection behavior that once had a beneficial or neutral effect on waterfowl reproductive success can be detrimental in a changing landscape or environment. The nesting behavior of pintails in Prairie Canada is a prime example. Compared to other upland-nesting ducks, pintails aren't particular about the type of cover in which they nest. They seem to be much more concerned about getting an early start on the nesting season on landscapes where there are large numbers of highly productive, shallow wetland basins holding water.
Unfortunately, the same landscapes that are attractive to nesting pintails are also well suited for cultivation, and today there is very little perennial grassland left in many of these areas. Grain stubble is often the predominant residual vegetative cover on the landscape when breeding pintails return in spring. In the past, a significant proportion of the cropland in Prairie Canada was left idle during the growing season in a practice known as "summer fallowing." At that time, pintails nesting in crop stubble had comparable nest success as pintails nesting in grassland. Today, almost all the cropland in Prairie Canada is cultivated every spring, and pintails nesting in spring-cultivated cropland generally have poor nesting success and are at high risk of being killed by machinery. As a result, DU is working with prairie landowners to switch from spring wheat to winter wheat, which isn't cultivated in the spring and provides more secure upland nesting cover for pintails and other ducks.