5th Grade - Science

LESSON PROBLEM: Ecology: Why are rice fields suitable habitats for birds?


Conservation groups have joined forces with rice farmers in the United States to preserve and enhance important migratory bird habitats. The rice producing regions in Mississippi, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas are wintering grounds for millions of waterfowl and shorebirds; including geese, ducks and swans. The birds travel every year along the Central, Mississippi and Pacific flyways. The shallow, flooded rice fields offer safe shelters where the waterfowl can feed, rest and regain their strength for the trip back to their northern nesting grounds.

After the rice crop is harvested in late summer and early fall, the leftover grain and weed seeds become a filling food source for the wintering birds. The flooded fields are also teaming with insects which are a great source of protein for the birds. This protein intake contributes to the growth of new feathers and an increased potential for breeding.

Rice fields have been a real benefit to migrating birds because they have replaced the natural marshes and swamplands that originally hosted these birds but which were drained for settlement so many years ago. These ecosystems are also home to various species of mammals and reptiles. Rice fields are very beneficial to the environment. By holding water in rice fields for an extended period of time, time and sunshine break down agricultural pesticides and disperse nutrients from fertilizers. Studies have shown that the water leaves the rice field cleaner than when it first entered the field. The flooded rice fields also reduce the effects of erosion through rain and wind.

The benefits to farmers of hosting migrating birds in their rice fields include less competition from weeds during the growing season (birds eat the weed seeds), richer soils due to bird droppings, and quicker decomposition of the rice straw.

The Gulf Coast is an important rice farming region and a major destination for migrating birds. The Gulf Coast runs along the Gulf of Mexico from the Mexico-Texas border west to Alabama. Much of this Texas-Louisiana coastline is planted in rice and hosts millions of migratory birds! The Louisiana coast provides a winter habitat to 60 percent of the birds that travel along the Mississippi flyway. The Gulf Coast is an important wintering habitat but is also the main breeding ground for several species of duck. The availability of rice fields for migratory fowl is very important because much marshland acreage in Louisiana has been lost to flood contolling measures. Hurricanes and rising sea levels have also been destructive to freshwater marshlands.

California's Central Valley is another important place that provides cover and food to migratory birds. With the encouragement and guidance of wildlife conservation groups, farmers readily flood their rice fields over winter for the benefit of these birds.

Four to five million acres of the Central Valley wetlands had been lost to development and agriculture. But California rice farmers and conservation organizations have worked together to make rice cultivation and waterfowl habitation mutually beneficial. As a result of these cooperative programs, farmers annually flood 200,000 acres of California's rice fields during the winter for the benefit of migratory birds.


Write two to three paragraphs describing why rice fields are good homes for waterfowl and shorebirds.


Research the relationship between rice farming and waterfowl in other parts of the world.


  • migratory
  • marsh
  • habitat
  • teem
  • flyway
  • waterfowl
  • dissapate

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
Baldo is actually a type of specialty rice grown right here in the U.S. Other types include basmati, jasmine and arborio.
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