Rice seed remaining in commercial fields after harvest (waste rice) is a critical food resource for wintering waterfowl in rice-growing regions of North America. Accurate and precise estimates of the seed mass density of waste rice are essential for planning waterfowl wintering habitat extents and management. In the Sacramento Valley of California, USA, the existing method for obtaining estimates of availability of waste rice in harvested fields produces relatively precise estimates, but the labor-, time-, and machinery-intensive process is not practical for routine assessments needed to examine long-term trends in waste rice availability. We tested several experimental methods designed to rapidly derive estimates that would not be burdened with disadvantages of the existing method. We first conducted a simulation study of the efficiency of each method and then conducted field tests. For each approach, methods did not vary in root mean squared error, although some methods did exhibit bias for both simulations and field tests. Methods also varied substantially in the time to conduct each sample and in the number of samples required to detect a standard trend. Overall, modified line-intercept methods performed well for estimating the density of rice seeds. Waste rice in the straw, although not measured directly, can be accounted for by a positive relationship with density of rice on the ground. Rapid assessment of food availability is a useful tool to help waterfowl managers establish and implement wetland restoration and agricultural habitat-enhancement goals for wintering waterfowl. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.