Waterfowl Nesting Success Research

Ensuring effective and efficient prairie conservation

Although dabbling ducks once returned each spring to prairie breeding areas to find diverse wetland communities scattered amidst large expanses of grassland, many of the prairie landscapes today have been altered. And the changes to these landscapes have detrimentally impacted the ability of the birds to successfully reproduce. Thus, the challenge is to understand how ducks fare in the different landscape settings they experience today so we can develop and deliver conservation programs that improve their breeding success. Previous research has identified nesting success as the single most important factor influencing the growth of dabbling duck populations. Thus, Ducks Unlimited has had research ongoing since 2000 to refine our understanding of the landscape and habitat characteristics that influence nesting success.

The ultimate goal of this work is the constant refinement of the information we have to guide our important conservation work across the prairies. Here you can learn more about our research and follow along with our researchers as the breeding season progresses in 2009. We hope you'll enjoy the frequent updates of what is happening on the prairies! Get More Details


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Post-season Research Update 2009

August 28, 2009

Greetings once again from the prairies of the Dakotas! As August comes to an end, there are many young birds flying around the Coteau region as they test out their new flying skills.  We had another successful year in obtaining a wealth of data about how ducks fare across the landscapes of the Missouri Coteau. During the course of the spring and summer, our hard-working field crews were able to obtain information on 2,270 nests during 2009. This information provides us with opportunity to develop a better understanding of the factors influencing the dynamics of duck production on the prairies across different areas and throughout different years.  Over the course of this long-term research effort, we have collected data on 17,566.

Overall, the nesting season of 2009 appears to be the best we have recorded for the ducks during our ten years of research. The overall nesting success rate, estimated using all the nests we collected data on, was 28%. Estimates of the nesting success rate on each of the 21 sites can be viewed below.  Eighteen of our 21 study sites experienced greater than 15% nesting success. We had a couple of sites that experienced very high nest survival in Lostwood Site 8 and Goebel Site 24 had 63 and 52% nest survival, respectively. Not surprisingly, both of these sites are dominated by grassland but we believe that in the initial years when water returns after drought, nest survival can be good in even marginal landscapes because of reduction in predator populations or abandonment of these areas by predators during drought.  We will spend the next year analyzing this rich data set to learn all we can about how to best invest our conservation dollars to benefit duck populations.  The conditions have also been excellent for brood and duckling survival for all the nests that were hatched this year so we expect overall production to be the best we've seen in over a decade.  Despite the great year 2009 represents, the greatest challenge continues to be maintenance of the habitat base that is critical to allow the birds to respond when favorable environmental conditions exist like they did this year.  That effort will take everyone's continued support over the long haul to ensure healthy populations.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about our work and following our progress toward better information to guide our investment of your conservation dollars.  We hope you all take the time to enjoy what should be a spectacular fall migration whether that occurs from a duck blind or through a pair of binoculars.  We'll need your continued engagement to make awe-inspiring fall migrations like we should experience this year possible for many generations to come.

Scott Stephens
Director of Conservation Planning

Research Home

North Dakota Game & Fish Department
Crosby/Lostwood Wetland Management District (USFWS)
Audubon Wetland Management District (USFWS)
Chase Lake Wetland Management District (USFWS)
Sand Lake Wetland Management District (USFWS)
Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (USFWS)
The Nature Conservancy
South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks