The Ducks Unlimited and University of North Dakota (UND) prairie nest-cam project is gearing up to bring you more inside-the-nest videos this spring. A new addition to the project will help viewers learn more about why nesting ducks behave as they do.
The UND biology interns will begin searching for duck nests on Ducks Unlimited's Coteau Ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. They will install video-surveillance cameras for a close-up view of nest behavior. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (NPWRC), a new science communications intern will offer 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 that would ultimately help them to obtain jobs or graduate positions in the future.
In the study's first year, UND wildlife professor Dr. Susan Ellis-Felege's students used video cameras to observe blue-winged teal. Working with DU research scientists, students learned about study design, collecting data, and drawing conclusions from results throughout the summer. They also received university credit for their work.
Since then, the internship program has grown substantially. In 2016, students expanded their 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 7,017 acres of grassland through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the NPWRC.
This year, students participating in the science communications portion of the program will work with DU communications staff and Dr. Sarah Cavanah, a UND communication 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. The communication interns will be working closely with field research interns throughout the summer.
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.