Conditions Good, But Drier Than Last Year

Important Notice: will be shutting down on January 2, 2019. However, most of the content found here will now be available on the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program website.

Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We started the survey on May 7th and have had six good flying days. So far, conditions look good across the southern grasslands; drier than last year but wetland conditions are still good. It appears that ducks have returned to Saskatchewan in good numbers and pintails have likely made the decision to stay in their preferred breeding habitat–mixed and short grass prairie. Studies have shown that pintails migrate from Texas and California and arrive in southern Saskatchewan in late April. They spend a week or so checking out habitat conditions. If things look good, they stay, and if things look bad (dry), they move north to the boreal forest, and in many cases, all the way to Alaska!

The delayed arrival of spring this year could be detrimental to pintail nesting and successful brood rearing. Seeding is behind schedule for farmers, but pintail nesting behavior appears to be right on schedule. We are seeing them in the classic pintail wetlands… a puddle in the middle of a stubble field. They now nest in these stubble fields in good numbers since remaining short grass prairie is in short supply. Since seeding is delayed, hens will have more time to lay more eggs and may even start incubating before the fields are seeded. When the field is eventually seeded, the nest is destroyed and the hen may or may not renest. It depends on her health, experience and how late in the season she lost her nest. If she renests, hopefully it will be in a safer location or possibly in a field already seeded.

Surveying the Missouri Coteau in southern Saskatchewan. Big Muddy Lake is in the background.
Video by Phil Thorpe/USFWS.

The Southern Saskatchewan aerial crew for 2014: Phil Thorpe (left) and Stephen Chandler.

The Southern Saskatchewan aerial crew for 2014: Phil Thorpe (left) and Stephen Chandler. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS