Aquaculture can provide important surrogate habitats for waterbirds. In response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Resource Conservation Service enacted the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative through which incentivized landowners provided wetland habitats for migrating waterbirds. Diversity and abundance of waterbirds in six production and four idled aquaculture facilities in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley were estimated during the winters of 2011–2013. Wintering waterbirds exhibited similar densities on production (i.e., ∼22 birds/ha) and idled (i.e., ∼20 birds/ha) sites. A total of 42 species were found using both types of aquaculture wetlands combined, but there was considerable departure in bird guilds occupying the two wetland types. The primary users of production ponds were diving and dabbling ducks and American coots. However, idled ponds, with varying water depths (e.g., mudflats to 20 cm) and diverse emergent vegetation-water interspersion, attracted over 30 species of waterbirds and, on average, had more species of waterbirds from fall through early spring than catfish production ponds. Conservation through the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative was likely responsible for this difference. Our results suggest production and idled Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative aquaculture impoundments produced suitable conditions for various waterbird species and highlight the importance of conservation programs on private lands that promote diversity in vegetation structure and water depths to enhance waterbird diversity.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3