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Keywords:

  • borrow pit;
  • case–control;
  • constructed wetland;
  • generalized linear mixed model;
  • habitat selection;
  • horned grebe;
  • Peace Parkland;
  • Podiceps auritus;
  • waterbird

Abstract

Wetland degradation has resulted in declines in populations of aquatic birds throughout North America. Horned grebe (Podiceps auritus), a migratory diving bird experiencing population decline, may benefit from wetland construction. We examined horned grebe use of borrow pits (ponds created during highway construction) in Alberta, Canada. Our goals were to document patterns of occurrence and breeding success of grebes on borrow pits and to determine if occupied and unoccupied sites differed in local habitat or landscape characteristics. In May 2003 and 2007, 330 constructed ponds were surveyed for horned grebes. We chose 100 occupied and 100 unoccupied ponds for additional surveys in 2007 and 2008, and collected habitat and landscape data for these sites. We used generalized linear mixed model and generalized linear model regression, coupled with Akaike's Information Criterion, to determine which environmental variables were most effective in explaining occurrence of horned grebes. The best model included all measured local and landscape habitat features. Horned grebes occurred on 36% of ponds in May 2003 and 2007, and chicks were produced on 74.5–81.3% of occupied ponds in 2007 and 2008. Grebes occupied larger ponds with more emergent and riparian vegetation and avoided ponds that supported beavers, contained human structures, and were primarily surrounded by forest within 1 km. On ponds with grebe pairs, chicks were produced more often on sites surrounded by more riparian vegetation. We conclude that the construction of small wetlands offers a promising means of increasing breeding habitat for horned grebes and present specific recommendations for breeding pond construction. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.