As little is known about specific factors influencing wetland birds during migration, the effects of time period, hunting pressure, and year on wetland bird behavior were evaluated during spring migration. Avian behavior was quantified on 36–40 playa wetlands in the Rainwater Basin region of Nebraska, during springs 2002–2004. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to test for differences in behavior among time periods, hunting categories (closed to hunting, hunted wetlands in-season, and hunted wetlands post-season), and years for geese, dabbling ducks, diving ducks, and shorebirds, as well as among two species of management concern; Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) and Northern Pintails (Anas acuta). Overall, goose behavior did not differ among time periods or years; however, a greater percentage of geese were observed feeding in wetlands closed to hunting (11%) than on hunted wetlands in-season (5%). A smaller percentage of dabbling ducks was observed feeding on hunted wetlands in-season (19%) than on wetlands closed to hunting (24%) or on hunted wetlands post-season (28%). Diving duck and shorebird behavior did not differ among time periods, years, or hunting categories. Although spring hunting was implemented to reduce the light goose population, it may also be negatively influencing habitat quality at migration stopover sites for geese and dabbling ducks. Managers should consider limiting spring hunting disturbance on temporary and seasonal wetlands, where dabbling ducks spend more time foraging, than on semi-permanent wetlands.
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Vol. 34 • No. 4