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Summer use of Rice Fields by Secretive Marsh Birds in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley of Northeast Louisiana

Valente, Jonathon J., King, Sammy L., Wilson, R. Randy
Southeastern naturalist 2012 v.11 no.3 pp. 423-436
Fulica, Ixobrychus exilis, Rallus, alluvial plains, birds, breeding, foraging, habitats, landscapes, marshes, nests, paddies, probability, summer, vegetation, Louisiana, Mississippi, Mississippi River
Many secretive marsh bird (SMB) species nest within rice fields, yet in most regions we do not understand the extent to which these birds use such habitats. In the summers of 2007 and 2008, we investigated summer use of rice fields by SMBs in northeast Louisiana and evaluated the local (within 100 m) and landscape (within 1 km) habitat characteristics influencing site selection. We did not encounter any SMB species in 2007, but we encountered low densities of Ixobrychus exilis (Least Bitterns), Rallus elegans (King Rails), and Fulica americana (American Coots) in mid-July of 2008. It is unclear whether or not the birds we detected were actually breeding in the rice fields, or merely using them as late summer foraging areas. When we combined detections of all species, we found that probability of occupancy was positively influenced by the proportion of the local habitat dominated by flooded ditches containing herbaceous emergent vegetation. Ditches likely provide refuge and resource alternatives that may be particularly important to these birds in the late summer when rice fields are drained and harvested. However, given that SMBs were detected at less than 10% of the 72 rice fields we surveyed, it appears as though Mississippi Alluvial Valley rice fields contribute very little toward supporting SMB populations.