Staging areas and migratory stopovers of wetland birds can function as geographic bottlenecks; common dependence among migratory wetland bird species on these sites has major implications for wetland conservation. Although 90% of playa wetlands in the Rainwater Basin (RWB) region of Nebraska, USA, have been destroyed, the area still provides essential stopover habitat for up to 10 million waterfowl each spring. Our objectives were to determine local (within wetland and immediate watershed) and landscape-scale factors influencing wetland bird abundance and species richness during spring migration at RWB playas. We surveyed 36–40 playas twice weekly in the RWB and observed approximately 1.6 million individual migratory wetland birds representing 72 species during spring migrations 2002–2004. We tested a priori hypotheses about whether local and landscape variables influenced overall species richness and abundance of geese, dabbling ducks, diving ducks, and shorebirds. Wetland area had a positive influence on goose abundance in all years, whereas percent emergent vegetation and hunting pressure had negative influences. Models predicting dabbling duck abundance differed among years; however, individual wetland area and area of semipermanent wetlands within 10 km of the study wetland consistently had a positive influence on dabbling duck abundance. Percent emergent vegetation also was a positive predictor of dabbling duck abundance in all years, indicating that wetlands with intermediate (50%) vegetation coverage have the greatest dabbling duck abundance. Shorebird abundance was positively influenced by wetland area and number of wetlands within 10 km and negatively influenced by water depth. Wetland area, water depth, and area of wetlands within 10 km were all equally important in models predicting overall species richness. Total species richness was positively influenced by wetland area and negatively influenced by water depth and area of semipermanent wetlands within 10 km. Avian species richness also was greatest in wetlands with intermediate vegetation coverage. Restoring playa hydrology should promote intermediate percent cover of emergent vegetation, which will increase use by dabbling ducks and shorebirds, and decrease snow goose (Chen caerulescens) use of these wetlands. We observed a reduction in dabbling duck abundance on wetlands open to spring snow goose hunting and recommend further investigation of the effects of this conservation order on nontarget species. Our results indicate that wildlife managers at migration stopover areas should conserve wetlands in complexes to meet the continuing and future habitat requirements of migratory birds, especially dabbling ducks, during spring migration.
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Vol. 74 • No. 1