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


Date of this Version



Published in Western North American Naturalist 69(4), © 2009, pp. 491–500.


Broad-spectrum herbicide applications and improved harvesting efficiency of crops have reduced the availability of weed seeds and waste grains for game and nongame wildlife. Over the last decade, corn and soybean plantings have steadily increased in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North Dakota, while sunflower plantings have declined. The PPR is an important corridor for migratory birds, and changes in food availabilities at stopover habitats may affect how food resources are used. In early spring 2003 and 2004, we compared bird use of harvested fields of sunflower, soybeans, small grains, and corn in the PPR of North Dakota. Across both years and all crop types, we observed 20,400 birds comprising 29 species. Flocks of Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) and Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) and flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) made up 60% and 15%, respectively, of the bird counts. We found that species richness and bird densities were higher in harvested sunflower fields and cornfields than in harvested small-grain and soybean fields, with soybean fields harboring the fewest species and lowest bird density. Blackbird densities tended to be lower in fields tilled after fall harvest than in fields not tilled. These results suggest that some granivorous bird populations in the Northern Great Plains could be positively affected by planting of row crops with postharvest vertical structure (e.g., sunflower, corn) and use of no-till land management practices.