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Stewardship Tools for Landowners
Stock Tank Ladders

Birds drowning in livestock watering tanks has likely been a problem since the use of artificial watering sources became popular across the grasslands of North America. We have found hundreds of bird carcasses in livestock watering tanks across western Nebraska, including Western Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Mountain Bluebirds, Ferruginous Hawks, Red Crossbills and Lark Buntings.

During a time of declining population trends for even the most common prairie birds, we must take measures to reduce the severity of negative impacts afflicting our native fauna. Wildlife escape ladders are one way to reduce bird drowning in stock tanks. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory developed a ladder that meets the standard requirements for NRCS Standard 614 Watering Facility, which requires installation of a wildlife escape ladder in these facilities. NRCS revised the design for ease of fabrication. 

Nebraska Prairie Partners conducted a large, region-wide study of bird drowning in livestock watering tanks in the summer of 2006, comparing the effectiveness of wildlife escape ladders to a flotation device (a board) that landowners usually put in tanks, along with other tanks with no escape device. Landowners recorded the number of times they visited each tank, along with the number and species of all drowned birds. The results show that a wildlife escape ladder decreases the likelihood of drowning, and that lower water levels increase the likelihood of drowning. Water levels more than one inch below the tank edge are most likely to cause birds to drown, presumably because the birds have to lean forward a greater distance to drink or the distance is too great for them to escape once they have fallen in. We also found that other flotation devices (boards, wooden fence posts, etc.) increase the likelihood of bird drowning, which is in direct contrast to what landowners had believed. Read the full report.

Seth Gallagher
Stewardship Director
Ph: 970-482-1707 ext.12

Laura Quattrini
Program Management Specialist
Ph: 970-482-1707 ext. 21

Stock tank ladders help prevent mortalities like this Western Meadowlark and Red-tailed Hawk.

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