Waterfowl Nesting in Fall-Seeded and Spring-Seeded Cropland in Saskatchewan

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ABSTRACT Waterfowl nesting in annual croplands has remained a little-known aspect of waterfowl nesting ecology because of the inability of many studies to systematically search this habitat through the nesting season. Where searches have been conducted, they are generally restricted to the period prior to seeding, and many nests found are destroyed by the seeding operation. Consequently, fall-seeded crops have been promoted as an alternative cropping practice that could increase nest survival of waterfowl nesting in croplands. During 1996–1999, we conducted 3–4 complete nest searches on 4,274 ha of cropland, including spring-seeded wheat and barley, winter wheat, and fall rye in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Using suites of predictive models, we tested hypotheses regarding relative nest abundance and nest survival among crop types and tested the influence of several landscape-scale covariates on these metrics. Apparent nest densities were higher in fallseeded crops (winter wheat: 0.39 nests/ha, fall rye: 0.25 nests/ha) than in spring-seeded crops (0.03 nests/ha), and nest density in spring-seeded croplands increased with percent cropland and percent wetland habitat in the surrounding landscape. Nest survival was higher in winter wheat (38%) than in either fall rye (18%) or spring-seeded crops (12%), and nest survival in spring-seeded crops increased with relative nest initiation date. Nest survival was unaffected by surrounding landscape characteristics but tended to be higher in years of average wetness. Based on our findings, winter wheat and fall rye have the potential to provide productive nesting habitat for 7 species of upland nesting ducks and fall-seeded crops are a conservation tool well suited to highly cropped landscapes. (JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT 72(8): 1790–1797; 2008)

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