Breeding-bird communities inhabiting northern prairie wetlands have been shown to have higher densities and diversities in wetlands with a well-interspersed 50:50 vegetative cover:water ratio than in those wetlands with a higher or lower proportion of cover. Potential reasons for such a response include increased food or visual isolation and spacing of breeding birds. We manipulated cover:water ratios (75:25, 50:50, 25:75) in Southern Great Plains playas and examined avian response (i.e., species richness, non-waterfowl bird density, and waterfowl density) to these patterns in winter. We found the highest species richness and generally the highest waterfowl densities in the 50:50 cover:water treatment. Because the amount of vegetative food was similar among treatments and waterfowl inhabiting playas during winter are forming pair bonds, it is most likely that the optimal edge and visual isolation provided in the 50:50 cover:water treatment contributed to its high use and richness. Nonwaterfowl bird density was not different among the treatments. Many nonwaterfowl birds using playas in winter, such as McCown's longspur (Calcarius mccownii), occur as nonbreeding feeding flocks, are not forming pair bonds, and likely are not responding to particular cover:water treatments. Playa wetland biologists should create a well-interspersed 50:50 cover:water ratio to optimize waterfowl use and avian species richness.
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