Habitat Update: Northern Plains Receives More Snow

April 16, 2013 - Biologist explains impacts on habitat

By Dr. Jim Ringelman, DU Director of Conservation Programs, Dakotas and Montana

A late spring storm in North Dakota dropped one to two feet of snow across the state, creating chaos for citizens of the Northern Plains.  For most waterfowl, however, the snow is just a temporary setback.   In fact, the extra moisture from the storm will help fill the small, seasonal wetlands so important to breeding ducks in the Prairie Pothole Region. 

Except for some local Canada geese, which may have already started nesting, most waterfowl are either waiting for weather to break so they can proceed with their migration or awaiting the spring thaw and open water in ponds, which will trigger nesting.  Short-term unavailability of food is generally not a problem for spring migrants, as most species pack on enough body fat to power their migration and enable them to endure spring snowstorms.  These fat reserves are but one of the many adaptations of waterfowl that make them so successful. 

And, if worse comes to worse, ducks and geese can always do an about face and fly south to temporary quarters.  Most people, on the other hand, are destined to spend the next few days with snow blowers and shovels.

Post your spring migration sightings on DU's Habitat Map.

More on spring migration and waterfowl breeding habitat:

Habitat for Building Fat Stores

Nest Site Selection

Waterfowl Mating Systems