US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Published in THE PRAIRIE NATURALIST 36(2): June 2004 Published by the North Dakota Natural Science Society.


To improve the economic viability of grazed prairie and thus conserve it as wildlife habitat, the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) cost-shares establishment of rotational cattle grazing on privately owned, native rangeland. During 1996 and 1997 we evaluated duck nest density, nest success, and nesting habitat on six PPJV rotational grazed pastures on the Missouri Coteau landform in central and northwestern North Dakota. Each rotational pasture was paired with a traditional, continuous grazed pasture for comparison. We located 444 nests of eight duck species. We detected no differences (P > 0.1) between rotational and continuous grazed pastures in apparent nest density of ducks (x ± SD nests/ha, all species combined, 1996: 0.26 ± 0.09 and 0.31 ± 0.12; 1997: 0.38 ± 0.14 and 0.25 ± 0.12), although a grazing type x year interaction suggested rotational pastures might be more attractive to ducks in a dry spring (1997). No differences in duck nest success were detected between rotational and continuous pastures (% Mayfield estimate, 1996: 27.2 ± 12.6 and 15.5 ± 11.0; 1997: 21.6 ± 10.0 and 16.7 ± 13.7), but varied occurrence of canid species could have obscured differences. We detected no differences in vegetation height-density indices as measured by visual obstruction readings (VORs) between rotational and continuous pastures in 1996. VORs were greater on rotational pastures, however, in the relatively dry spring of 1997. Our findings suggested that rotational grazing systems can serve as a prairie conservation tool on private rangelands without altering habitat values for nesting ducks, and in relatively dry springs might provide more attractive nesting cover for ducks than prairie under continuous grazing.