Photo Essay: Nesting Habitat

Experience the images waterfowl face when they arrive on the prairies

© Michael Furtman

By Chris Jennings

The Prairie Pothole Region of the United States and Canada is referred to as the Duck Factory. We here at DU have a tendency to simply refer to it as the PPR. Sometimes we take for granted the science-based knowledge that is exchanged on a daily basis within the organization. The understanding that the PPR is the foundation for waterfowl breeding populations is easy to say, but for many who live outside this area, it's hard to picture. This photo essay walks readers through the PPR visually, explaining habitat conditions, and providing vivid examples of what waterfowl breeding habitat really looks like, and why it's so important to conserve.


Photo © Michael Furtman


April is a time of renewal. Winter has released most of the U.S. from its frosty grip, and waterfowl are beginning to arrive in the Prairie Pothole Region. After a long return voyage from the wintering grounds, ducks should find ideal breading conditions this year due to late snow fall, a solid snow pack, and pre-winter precipitation.


Photo © Michael Furtman


The combination of water and healthy native grasses is what makes the PPR the Duck Factory. These native grasses provide the nesting cover for the highest brood survival rates. And once off the nest, hens and ducklings rely on the insects living in the wetlands to grow healthy for the coming fall migration. 


Photo © Michael Furtman


As the region continually loses native prairie, combined with the constant losses of Conservation Reserve Program lands; waterfowl arriving in the region continue to find less and less suitable habitat. Agricultural threats are constant in the prairies, but DU continues working with farmers and ranchers in the region to find common ground. Many agricultural producers understand the benefits of sustainable habitat and conservation.


Photo © Michael Furtman


Research programs and partnerships are allowing waterfowl scientists to learn more about waterfowl nesting in winter wheat. The waterfowl-friendly crop can be found throughout the U.S. and Canadian Prairies.


Photo © Michael Furtman


Waterfowl aren't the only wildlife to benefit from conserving the prairies. Other birds, including shorebirds and falcons nest throughout the prairies. Deer utilize the cover provided by healthy wetlands as well. Today U.S. grasslands support an estimated 20 million deer, 500,000 pronghorn antelope, 400,000 elk, and many other wildlife species.


Photo © MIchael Furtman


Fully-rejuvenated wetlands can support healthy waterfowl populations throughout the breeding season. With prairie potholes subject to any number of environmental contaminants, DU is focused on regaining clean water protections in the U.S. Prairies and throughout the country. 


Photo © MIchael Furtman


For many, the PPR holds a special place in their heart. The future of waterfowl populations and our waterfowl hunting heritage depends on the landscape level changes in this region. Through grassroots, public policy and leadership giving efforts, DU has been thus far successful in its conservation efforts. But we still have much work to do. 


Photo © MIchael Furtman


Nesting Research

Every year, DU performs nesting research in different areas throughout the PPR. Nesting research allows DU scientists to learn more about how habitat changes can affect breeding populations. In many areas of native grasslands, the nest density can be as high as 100 per square mile.



Photo © Mike Checkett


For a virtual Prairie tour, visit DU's Prairie Experience.