Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Arkansas
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Arkansas Project

Effects of Wetland Management Strategies on Habitat Use of Fall Migrating Rails on Intensively-Managed Wetland Complexes in Missouri

July 2012 - May 2016


Participating Agencies

  • Univ. of Arkansas
  • Webless Migratory Game Bird Program

The Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Support Task Force for rails and snipe (Case and McCool 2009) identified four priority information needs of which one, estimate vital rates to support population modeling, targeted the estimation of survival rates of rails, using the sora (Porzana carolina) as a surrogate. Marking rails during fall migration was suggested as a means to estimate annual survival rates. Fall was targeted because rails are easier to capture when water availability is limited on the landscape due to climate and management decisions. While fall may provide an opportune time to capture sora rails for a telemetry study, it first will be necessary to determine characteristics of habitat most likely to support rails during fall migration. We intend to survey a series of sites across Missouri, an important state through which many rails and other marsh birds migrate, to document fall distribution, migration timing and habitat use. Sites to be surveyed will be selected based on the current growing season water level treatment (deep, shallow, none), and wetland management treatment (soil disturbance, planting, herbiciding, etc.). We will use an occupancy approach that will include surveying managed impoundments at night using ATVs and nightlights for 2 consecutive nights on three occasions between 15 August and 15 October 2012 and 2013. From this data set, we should be able to estimate detection probabilities, occupancy rates and abundance and relate those estimates to habitat measurements taken at those sites. Relating the estimates to habitat and management covariates at local and landscape levels will assist managers in determining the trade-offs necessary to make better decisions to meet the life history needs of a variety of waterbirds. Without these initial efforts to determine what habitats are used by fall migrating rails and how management influences habitat utilization, a telemetry study would run the risk of producing uninformed vital rates that contribute little to the understanding of the factors affecting population dynamics. This proposed project will address key planning, management, and research questions that first need to be addressed before the Priority Information Need, estimate vital rates to support population modeling, can be addressed and will lay the groundwork to develop a telemetry study that can be used to develop models focused on vital rates