Ducks Unlimited researching waterfowl in Nebraska

DU working with partners to find waterfowl-preferred habitat

Ducks Unlimited is involved in a new research project in Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin (RWB) Wetland Complex. In partnership with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), DU will be studying habitat selection of ducks and other waterfowl.

The RWB provides critical habitat during waterfowl migration. Each spring, millions of ducks and geese rely on this region during their northward migration.

More than 85 percent of the historic wetland basins have been drained for agriculture production. The RWBJV estimates approximately 60,000 acres of wetland habitat is needed to support migrating waterfowl, which is more than double the current amount available in a typical year. However, the Joint Venture does not have adequate models to help it find the wetlands and wetland complexes that will best meet this need. To build these models, biologists need a better understanding of the factors that drive how various waterfowl types, called guilds, select habitat. Guilds include dabbling ducks, diving ducks, light geese and dark geese.

Four DU technicians have been working in the field to help the RWBJV collect data. Each wetland is surveyed at least three times a week, between sunrise and sunset. During the survey, technicians record waterfowl abundance by species, along with local wetland conditions and other variables. This study will be repeated each spring for several years to account for the changing nature of the system and waterfowl response to available habitat.

Models for each guild will be developed using the first year of data and continually refined as additional years of data are collected. The resulting models will be used to create mapping tools that will highlight areas on the landscape that have the greatest probability of use for the different guilds. Focusing resources on the best wetland habitats allows us to get the most bang for our conservation buck.


Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Inventory and Monitoring funds are being used to cover the costs of this project. Housing, vehicle use, fuel, and equipment are provided by several partners, including the USFWS, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Ducks Unlimited, and the Nature Conservancy.