Winter Abundance of Waterfowl and Waste Rice in Managed Arkansas Rice Fields

Flooding harvested rice fields in winter provides important ecological services, including benefits to waterfowl, other waterbirds, agronomics, and soil and water conservation. We conducted experiments in six rice fields in Arkansas during winters 2004-2006 to evaluate effects of different post-harvest stubble-management practices and flooding on abundance of dabbling ducks, geese, and waste rice. During both winters, rolled rice paddies attracted the greatest diurnal density of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos; x− = 4.18 birds/ha/survey, SE = 0.36). Burned paddies attracted the greatest densities of other dabbling duck species (x− = 2.29 birds/ha/survey, SE = 0.46) and geese (x− = 2.88 birds/ha/survey, SE = 0.97). Paddies with standing stubble contained the most waste rice in late November 2004 (x− = 96.83 kg/ha, SE = 17.99), but geese may have depleted fields of waste rice by late December 2004. Nonetheless, waterfowl continued using rice fields during winter. We recommend managers set head fires after harvest when stubble is dry in rice fields to burn stubble patchily and create an interspersion of cover and open water attractive to waterfowl and other waterbirds during fall and winter flooding. Additionally, we recommend that similar studies be replicated in other rice growing regions of the United States.

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