BISMARCK, N.D. May 15, 2020 Cattle and drones may not seem to have a lot in common, but they are both part of research going on this spring and summer at Ducks Unlimiteds 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 Unlimiteds 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.

In a normal year, a handful of UND interns and a couple of DU techs would look for nests and place stationary cameras to observe nesting behavior at the Coteau Ranch and neighboring Davis Ranch, owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). However, following new CDC guidelines, students cannot be housed together or travel in the same vehicle. This years breeding waterfowl ecology research is being led by one UND graduate student, staying in a camper. A UND undergrad, professor and DU staff will provide support through day-trips to the two ranches, traveling in separate vehicles. Other students are helping analyze research data online.

The 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.

Masons 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, who supervises the students. 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.

In collaboration with TNC, 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.

Next year, if CDC guidelines permit, DU plans to host and help supervise eight UND interns to continue the grazing study.

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About Ducks Unlimited

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14.5 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit

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