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Value of fallow farmlands as summer habitats for waterbirds in a Japanese rural area

Flooded rice fields, which occupy half of the total agricultural land in Japan, are known to be foraging habitats for waterbirds. We investigated the use of various fallow fields by birds in midsummer, when rice fields are generally full of grown rice plants and are of little use for foraging waterbirds. We distinguished four types of fallow fields based on the ground cover and vegetation: (i) tall-grass fields; (ii) wet short-grass fields; (iii) dry fields; and (iv) flooded open fields. In August 1998 we counted birds four times in 19 survey plots of fallow fields and in seven plots of rice fields in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, where 82% of the farmlands are devoted to rice production. We observed 590 individual birds of 22 species, of which 15 species were waterbirds, mostly herons and shorebirds. Flooded open fields supported the largest number of species and the highest bird density, while rice fields supported the fewest. Within flooded open fields, herons preferred open-water areas, while shorebirds used bare ground most often. Wet short-grass fields looked similar to flooded open fields, except for the amount of short grass, but supported far fewer birds than flooded open fields. The number of birds in dry fields was comparable to that in flooded open fields, but most of the birds were ground-foraging passerines. Our limited dataset suggests that fallow fields can serve as valuable supplemental habitats for waterbirds during summer, if they are appropriately managed to preserve flooded open fields and smaller areas of other habitats.

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Correspondence to Masahiro Fujioka.

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Fujioka, M., Jr, J., Yoshida, H. et al. Value of fallow farmlands as summer habitats for waterbirds in a Japanese rural area. Ecol Res 16, 555–567 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1703.2001.00417.x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1703.2001.00417.x

Key words

  • farmlands
  • rice fields
  • set-aside
  • species richness
  • waterbirds