U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
 
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Milk River Basin
Species of Special Concern

pintail duck photoMany populations of grassland birds and mammals are in sharp decline. Black-tailed prairie dogs (candidate species) are much reduced, and the obligate associated species, the black-footed ferret, is endangered. Populations of other species of northern plains grassland vertebrates, such as the swift fox, mountain plover (threatened), long-billed curlew, sage grouse, burrowing owl, Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow, lark bunting, and chestnut-collared longspur are in various degrees of chronic decline. The Breeding Bird Surveys, which began in the mid-1960s, indicate consistent widespread declines of grassland birds across most of their breeding range. Populations of at least 13 grassland bird species dropped significantly between 1966 and 1996.

Furthermore, populations of prairie nesting northern pintails have been dropping since the mid-1950's. Prolonged drought of the late 1980's and early 1990's saw pintail breeding populations fall to 1.8 million birds, their lowest numbers ever recorded. In 1999, following 5 years of excellent water conditions, the pintail population rebounded to 3 million birds, but this figure is still far below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) objective of 5.6 million breeding birds. Researchers speculate that much of the pintails' major prairie breeding range in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, and the Dakotas has been permanently altered by modern agriculture, and these landscapes may never again be productive pintail breeding habitat. Fortunately, many parts of Montana still have exceptionally high nest success due to extensive tracts of rangeland and Conservation Reserve Program grasslands and a coyote dominated environment with relatively few red fox, raccoon, or striped skunk. This geographical area with intact ponds and grasslands remains a critical, "source" recruitment area for continental pintail populations.


 

 

 

 

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