Roosting habitat use by sandhill cranes and waterfowl on the North and South Platte rivers in Nebraska

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Abstract

Migration ecology and habitat use of spring migrating birds using the Central Platte River is a well-explored topic, yet less is known about use of the North and South Platte rivers (NSPR) in western Nebraska. The efficiency and effectiveness of conservation efforts in the NSPR could be greatly improved with access to information about where and when birds roost and landscape prioritization tools. We used aerial surveys to determine population distribution and migration phenology of sandhill cranes Antigone canadensis, Canada geese Branta canadensis, and ducks using the NSPR for roosting during the mid-February to mid-April spring migration. We used these data and geospatial information to identify important river reaches for these species and habitat covariates that discriminate between those used at lower and higher densities. We found that sandhill cranes and waterfowl generally roosted in different segments of the NSPR and, subsequently, different factors were associated with high densities. Sandhill crane density was positively correlated with distance from obstructions greater than 1 m high and negatively correlated with area of unvegetated sandbar within 1 km. Density of Canada geese and ducks was high in segments positively associated with wetland and sand pit habitats. Human disturbance variables such as roads and bridges in this rural region had little effect on identification of roosting areas used by high densities of all groups. On the basis of our results, habitat conservation efforts that specifically target sandhill cranes will not have similar positive effects on waterfowl use and distribution in the NSPR. Our identification of the most important river segments should allow managers to better target land acquisition or management resources to areas that will have the greatest effect on either waterfowl or sandhill cranes during spring migration.

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Varner, D. M., Pearse, A. T., Bishop, A. A., Davis, J. I., Denton, J. C., Grosse, R. C., … Wright, A. E. (2020). Roosting habitat use by sandhill cranes and waterfowl on the North and South Platte rivers in Nebraska. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, 11(1), 56–67. https://doi.org/10.3996/042019-JFWM-030

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