Readying for round 2The Bismarck region of Ducks Unlimited, a nationwide wetlands preservation organization, has teamed up with two researchers at Montana State University for year two of a three-year study involving the amount of duck nesting done in winter wheat fields compared to other seasons and nesting areas.
By: By Justin Nutter, The Dickinson Press
The Bismarck region of Ducks Unlimited, a nationwide wetlands preservation organization, has teamed up with two researchers at Montana State University for year two of a three-year study involving the amount of duck nesting done in winter wheat fields compared to other seasons and nesting areas.
The study, which is being conducted primarily in Mountrail, Ward and McLean counties, covered a span of more than 1,900 acres during the first year of data collection. Researchers expect the study area to cover the same amount of land this year, as 18 research locations have been selected in north central North Dakota.
Johann Walker, Ducks Unlimited director of conservation planning, said the second year of the study will cover much of the same area, but researchers are also looking for new study sites within the state.
“Most of the sites last year were located between Garrison and Minot in an area about 75 miles across. We’re shooting for some sites in that area this year and we’re also trying to expand into areas around Ashley, N.D.”
In 2010, the research team located a total of 1,619 duck nests in landscapes that included winter wheat fields, spring wheat fields and wetland settings. More than a third of the nests (597) were found in winter fields, while only 83 were found in spring fields.
Walker said there are multiple factors that could explain why ducks seemingly prefer nesting in winter fields, but researchers suspect the nesting patterns are largely affected by the destruction of spring crops that occurs during the winter months.
“The idea is (winter wheat fields) provide attractive nesting coverage in these landscapes,” he said. “In a spring cultivated setting, if the ducks show up and nest, the farming machinery comes in and destroys the crops. In a winter cultivated setting, the crops aren’t disturbed, so it’s kind of a win-win for farmers and ducks, potentially.”
While most research is being done in the Prairie Pothole region, which is primarily east of the Missouri River, Walker said researchers expect the numbers to provide an accurate representation of nesting patterns throughout the state.
That could mean useful information for the large number of duck hunters who register in the state each year. According to the game and fish department of North Dakota, 16,565 14-day small game and waterfowl zone licenses and 6,093 statewide licenses were issued to nonresidents in 2009. In that same year, 24,272 small game and waterfowl licenses were issued to residents, as well as 55,619 small game, fishing, waterfowl and furbearer combination licenses.
Data is still being collected for the number of licenses issued in 2010, so that information is not yet available.
The department of game and fish has set tentative opening dates for the 2011 waterfowl season. Youth season is set to open on Sept. 17, while early season (residents only) will begin on Sept. 24. Nonresidents will be able to hunt when the regular waterfowl season opens on Oct. 1.
One member of the nesting research team is Brandi Skone, a graduate student at Montana State. Skone is working alongside Dr. Jay Rotello, who teaches ecology at the university. She said nesting patterns tend to fluctuate from year to year, but she anticipates this year’s statistics will be comparable to the data collected in 2010.
“I don’t have any reason not to expect similar results,” Skone said. “They should be pretty similar to what we found last year.”
Walker added that the study got off to a good start in its first year and he hopes the group will put together another successful effort when it begins research in April.
“What we can say at this point is that we found pretty high numbers of nest in winter wheat, which is definitely attractive to birds,” he said. “It appeared to be quite a bit more attractive than spring wheat. We were encouraged by that and we’re ready to go back out there.”