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Out of the Box: Monitoring Breeding Ducks

Aug 16, 2013

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".

Previous Posts

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:

Brother from a Different Mother: A Hooded Merganser's Tale

Band(ing) of Brothers: Hoodies and Woodies

Summer Wood Duck Banding 2011

Fair Weather Fowl

Empty Nest

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.


Wood ducks in a trap
Swim-in Wood Duck Trap
Wood duck broods head to the emergent marsh in Pool 1 to find cover and ample food. Swim-in traps are one way to capture and monitor these birds.


Any count on teal numbers and any count on how many positions for teal sesaon?

The north end of Pool 1 (north of the refuge signs) will be open for the teal season.  The lake will not be open during youth waterfowl or the regular waterfowl season.  We will keep the entire lake as a refuge this season as we did last year.  The lake remains at a very high level and flooding Pools 2 and 3 with water out of Pool 1 should not be problem this year.

How much water is on the main lake and will it be open for teal season like it always is and will it be able to be hunted in the regular season and in the youth season i know last year you could not hunt it in the regular duck season.

Has any water been added to unit a for the teal season?

Will the entrance on Z highway be open during Teal Season and will hunters be allowed to sign in and out for Teal hunting?

In terms of the regular duck season, we will be at full capacity this year.  We have ample water in Pool 1 to flood the timber and Units A and B will also be hunted like it was last year. This is great news and we appreciate everyone’s patience over the last few years.  I know it has been rough. However, there still may be a caveat this year.  The headquarters building is currently under construction and it may not be completed by the time opening day rolls around.  One way or the other, we will still get folks out into the field and that is the main point. Thanks again for the questions and interest.  I’m looking forward to an exciting fall.  

The hot dry weather has allowed us to do a little repair work in Unit B.  With this completed, we’ve flipped on the well and started flooding 54 and 55.  There is already water in the distribution channel and multiple scours throughout Unit A. The road work to 15 and 16 should be completed this week. To date, we haven’t seen any teal moving into the area.  I know I didn’t answer everyone’s questions for teal season.  We will provide more information later this week.

Does it still look like the area will be at full capacity this year? Just wanted a little info before putting in reservation. Thanks.

Hi guys, What is the next phase of renovations for the fall or do you plant to stop the work before regular duck season comes in? Any teal on the area? Thanks for the response!!

Ive been trying to call the HQ building but nobody is answering, on opening day of teal, how many parties are you going to allow to hunt? Thanks!

Looks like most of the water has been let out of A Unit. Will any water be pumped in for the upcoming Teal Season? Will the repairs to the road to 15 and 16 be completed before teal season and will that road be open for use? Will the entrance on Z highway be open during teal season and will hunters be able to sign in at that location?

Thanks for all you do at Duck Creek and on the web keeping this blog up and running! Don't bother ever putting blinds back in A and B units!

Just to address several of the questions that were brought up:We have not changed access points for any of the units this year.  AA blinds are built and footings poured for them, but it has still been too wet to get them out to the openings.  Hopefully with dry weather all next week we can move on this project soon.  Most of the scours have held water through the summer.  They have some emergent and submergent vegetation in them (i.e. duck food), but most of it is limited to the edges of the scours.  Not sure how much water is in Dark Cypress exactly, but we did capture quite a bit of the water from the flooding a few weeks ago.  We will have a lot more water there this year than we typically do in September.  Still no blinds in Unit A or B, however, the vegetation is very robust with quite a bit of smartweed in some of the units.  We plan to disk the units this fall with leaving more robust vegetation standing in mind so that hunters have some spots to hide in.  Speaking of vegetation, we have fantastic moist-soil vegetation this year, I'll promise you that the ducks will not go hungry at Duck Creek this fall!  Looking forward to a great season!

Can you give an estimate how much water is in Dark Cypress? Are most of the scours full or are they weed covered like last year? Has AA2 and AA3 blind replacement been completed? Any chance you guys could sneak one or two new blinds out to A or B Unit?

Good catch.  The Migratory Bird Digest had the correct information, but the "At a Glance" still had the old info.  It has now been updated with the correct information.

Just took a look at MISSOURI'S WATERFOWL SEASON AT A GLANCE and saw that only 4 Teal are allowed for a bag limit. Was it only a rumor that the limit has been changed to 6 Teal per day???

Any progress made on improving access to 18 19 20 in unit a and 55 in unit b??? I remember seeing a parking/service area near the corner of 18 16 and 22. Why not utilize that spot to access all 3 hunting positions???

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