U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

January 2005


North Dakota and South Dakota produce about 70% of the sunflower grown in the United States. Blackbird depredation, particularly in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), can be a major problem that results in some producers abandoning sunflower. Reduced acreage of an otherwise profitable crop is important economically and might harm migratory bird populations relying on the shrub-like habitat in sunflower fields for food and cover. In 2004 in an effort to reduce blackbird damage, USDA Wildlife Services provided funds to growers to plant Wildlife Conservation Sunflower Plots (WCSP). Growers were instructed to plant 8-ha units of oilseed sunflower near shelterbelts and cattail-choked wetlands to decoy blackbirds from commercial sunflower fields. Our study area spanned more than 12,600 km2 of the east-central North Dakota PPR. The close proximity of cattail marshes, shelter belts, and large acreages of crops makes this region an attractive stopover spot for birds during the fall migration. In this study, we compare the relative numbers of foraging birds in sunflower, small grains, and corn.