Cattle and drones may not seem to have a lot in common, but they are both part of research going on at Ducks Unlimited’s Coteau Ranch, near Bismarck, N.D. Both studies can improve our understanding of waterfowl production and ecology.
“Multiple studies in partnership with the University of North Dakota (UND) are planned for this summer,” said Kaylan Kemink, who oversees the research program in Ducks Unlimited’s Great Plains Region. “We have had to cut back on the number of researchers due to COVID-19 restrictions, but we want to continue our study monitoring nesting behavior.”
A UND graduate student, Mason Ryckman, is researching a variety of breeding behaviors using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The study will examine how breeding ducks react to UAVs and how to best use this technology for research.
“Mason’s primary project is to study the use of UAVs in researching breeding waterfowl ecology. How do birds behave with drones and how low do we need to fly over nests to be able to see the birds and identify species and sex?” said UND Associate Professor Susan Felege. “Our preliminary results suggest that nesting ducks do notice the UAV flying over, but we have not documented any flushing from the nest during our flights. Females staying on nests typically translates to reduced chances of predation, and so far it appears we are not changing incubation patterns compared to days without flights.”
Ducks Unlimited is also surveying the depth and the level of suspended solids in wetlands on DU's Coteau Ranch.
"We want to learn about long-term patterns of wetland hydrology, such as how many wetlands are wet on any given plot in a given year," said DU Wetland Scientist Kyle Kuechle.
In collaboration with The Nature Consevancy, another UND graduate student will study high-intensity, short-duration grazing, which simulates how bison might have historically moved across the prairie. Taylor Linder is looking at how this practice affects grassland nesting birds. The study is funded through a State Wildlife Grant, administered by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. DU is providing in-kind contributions.
“We expect grazing will play a big part in managing grasslands for wildlife. With high-intensity, short-duration grazing, cattle stay in smaller, fenced areas for a short rotation – hours or a couple of days – and then are moved on to the next paddock,” Felege said. “Then that grass may be undisturbed for a year or so.”
Meet our prairie research scientists.