Drainage Water Management Is An Effective Means of Creating Temporary Shorebird Habitat

Kirk W. Stodola, Michael P. Ward, Benjamin R. Williams, Mitch Hess

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The central Illinois landscape once consisted of wetlands and wet prairies that were prime stopover grounds for numerous shorebird and waterfowl species. However, beginning in the late 19th century the use of drain tile became popular and much of the region was converted to row-crop agriculture. Today, millions of miles of drain tile have been installed in Illinois fields that quickly removes surface water in the spring, yet important stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl is lost. To combat this problem, we created SCARC, Shorebird Conservation Acreage via drainage water Runoff Control. The SCARC program is a large collaborative project started in 2016, featuring the University of Illinois, Illinois DNR, USDA-NRCS, and Illinois Audubon Society. The program is aimed at helping farmers install water control structures that can be used to temporarily keep water in fields during the spring before crops are normally planted. Water control structures are removed prior to planting season. Currently, over 40 farmers have participated, and each year the program has created over 25 temporary wetlands and approximately 125 acres of vital stopover habitat. We have conducted weekly shorebird surveys from late March through early May to evaluate the success of the program in creating stopover habitat. We found that fields with water control structures are 15 times more likely to have shorebirds present compared to surrounding fields and many of these fields are being used by thousands of individuals. Our results indicate that water control structures can be an effective means for creating temporary shorebird habitat that is compatible with current agricultural practices.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMidwest Fish and Wildlife Conference 2020
StatePublished - 2020


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