Out of the Box: Monitoring Breeding Ducks
Wood ducks and hooded mergansers are one of the hallmarks of Duck Creek CA and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. These birds call the basin home in the summer, while others migrate through during the fall. Our summer residents nest in the many tree cavities and raise their young in the wooded sloughs and emergent marsh after the hatch. Some take up resident in nest boxes, which allows us to monitor a subset of the population. Although this isn't too different from monitoring efforts elsewhere in the Mississippi Flyway, I think it still counts as being "out of the box".
With this blog we’ve posted annual summaries and short stories on what we’ve been seeing with these charismatic birds. Click on the links below if you've missed a post over the years:
The 2013 Banding Effort
Peter Blums has been the chief "out of the box" biologist at Duck Creek. He was at it again this year, monitoring the nest boxes around Duck Creek. His dedication and work over the last 18 years is greatly appreciated. From spring through the summer he visited 103 different boxes that are scattered about the area.
Both wood ducks and hooded mergansers nested late this year. Hooded mergansers usually begin nesting earlier than wood ducks and had started half of their nests by March 4. This was a week later from last year. In contrast, wood ducks were delayed by almost a whole month in 2013. Fifty percent of all wood duck nest attempts were initiated by April 7. In 2012, the date for half of all wood duck nest initiation was March 16th.
This year Peter documented 30 nesting attempts by hooded mergansers in the nest boxes. This was the highest he has recorded in the last 18 years. Over time he has seen a steady increase by the hoodies using the nest boxes. This year's record total trumped last year’s 23 attempts. On the flip side, wood duck nesting attempts declined slightly from the previous year. He counted only 57 wood duck nesting attempts in 2013 compared to 60 last year. Overall, predation of nests was very low. Only 3 nests were lost to black rat snakes. Ten nests were abandoned for unknown reasons.
During the summer of 2013 a total of 790 ducklings hatched out of the montitored nest boxes. In total, 527 wood ducks and 263 hooded mergansers were banded within 24 hours of hatching. These little ducklings were outfitted with special clay-lined leg bands, which allowed them to grow into their new jewelry.
Following up Peter’s efforts with the nest boxes, Duck Creek staff have been using a swim-in trap to capture birds using the north end of Pool 1. Over the past month they’ve caught approximately 70 wood ducks. Of those birds, 10 ducklings, ageing between 70-113 days old, were ones that had been banded in the box and recaptured as thriving juveniles in Pool 1. The special leg bands fit well and the clay liners had already eroded away. The banding effort at the swim-in trap will continue for a couple more weeks before shutting down for the 2013 season.
Doing Your Part
With an additional year of banding nearly under our belts, we’ve set the stage for our waterfowl hunters to do their part in our national population monitoring program. As you go out in the field this fall and enjoy a good day of in the woods or the marsh, there is a chance that you could land a bird with a little leg jewelry. If so, then it is up to you to report that information and finish the loop of data collection for that bird. This adds another data point in the population distribution models and our estimated harvest rates. I think I speak for Peter and other "out of the box" biologists, when I say “Thank you” for helping and contributing to our understanding of waterfowl populations here at Duck Creek and across the country. We couldn't do our jobs without your help and support.