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Migrating Questions

Dec 18, 2015

Bird migration is a phenomenon that has puzzled and intrigued people for thousands of years. In recent history waterfowl biologists have developed studies to identify the factors and cues that play a part affecting the fall and spring migration of ducks. Some recent studies have looked at the impact of wind direction and winter weather severity. Other research has examined how habitat availability and quality may influence a duck's seasonal decisions. Still, additional studies have focused on the influence of human related disturbance on the distribution of waterfowl.

No Easy Answers

This fall's mild weather, rising and falling flood waters, and hunting pressure on public and private land have all probably influenced waterfowl activity to a degree and in turn affected our waterfowl hunting experiences this season. Just like everyday life, waterfowl ecology and the seasonal movements of these birds are more complex than what one simple explanation can answer. While that might frustrate some, I find it encouraging and perhaps a hint at why these birds are so resilient. When you get down to it, these birds are hardwired to respond to a variety of situations on a regular basis, but also retain some flexibility in their reactions.

Magnetic Vision

Emerging studies in quantum biology have begun to uncover some of this hardwiring circuitry that helps birds navigate across complex landscapes. That's right, quantum biology, a weird marriage of different sciences at the nano-scale where physicists and biologists look at how the interactions of atoms ultimately affect an animal's abilities. I know it sounds like a weird science fiction novel, but it is legit and they are uncovering some pretty cool stuff.

For years biologists have theorized that birds can sense the earth's magnetic field and use this internal compass to guide their seasonal treks across the globe. Recent research examining the eyesight of several species of birds has uncovered that this extra ability is partially related to the light-sensitive cells in a bird's retina. Within specific molecules the interaction of light and the magnetic fields of electrons produce a sensitivity in which these birds can "see" the earth's magnetic field as they turn and move their heads. However, to use this extra "power", the birds also have to be able to see their landscape clearly to help orient them. So once again, a crystal clear explanation doesn't answer all of the questions, but it does add to the notion that the natural world builds off of its inherent complexity.

While I sit out in the marsh or stand in the woods waiting for the next batch of ducks to pass by, I like to ponder what they are keying into as they fly from one spot to the next. What kind of information are they processing? How do they navigate from prairie Canada, through Missouri, and on further south? This new research doesn't necessarily simplify my questions or the potential answers, but then again, I didn't really expect it to either. Nature always has unexpected surprises and another layer of complexity that links one aspect to another.

hen_mallard.jpg

Hen Mallard
Hen Mallard
Special molecules in a bird’s eye may allow them to see the earth’s magnetic field and use this extra sense as a guide during migration.

Comments

Is there any way to keep the sight seeing non registered non hunting drivers out of A Unit during the rest of the Goose Season? Every day I have hunted there have been numerous non hunting drivers passing through the area. They ignore the sign saying ONLY REGISTERED WATERFOWL HUNTERS ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT. Can we start putting the chain in place at the bridge or start issuing some citations?!!!!!!!!!

I don't know the conditions or status of Ten Mile Pond.

My observations of the mallards and other ducks in pool 3 during the flooding event were taken from Blind Y2 near the center of the pool. Mallards were all around the blind all morning and when leaving about 1:30 there were ducks all the way down the boat lane on both sides. Two weeks earlier hunting the same blind the majority of ducks seen were heading into Otter Pond in the middle of Pool 3 with no ducks observed along the boat lane when leaving. Any idea if 10 mile pond will reopen before the end of Duck season?

What you noticed with the bird use is that they follow the waterline and use shallow water (<2 ft) because they can more efficiently search the whole water column for food. Any deeper than that and it is less efficient for them to find food.  Think about how far a mallard can strain his neck when he tips his tail end in the air. This fall was a great opportunity to witness this across the state with each rain event. Pool 3 is shaped like a bowl, with the highest elevations on perimeter and lowest in the center.  In Pool 8, the east and north side has the higher elevations. When it rained, it pushed water up to this higher ground, which the birds used temporarily.  However, where the blinds are in Pool 3 and the southern end of Pool 8 became much deeper at this time and didn’t have the bird use you saw on the edge of the road.  The spillways are working exactly as they were intended to ensure water depths across the whole pool are managed appropriately and not just what is visible along the road. 

Goose hunters that have a valid daily hunt tag, which is available at the Duck Creek headquarters, may access Unit A.  They can get to Unit A from Highway Z or by going around the south end of Pool 1.  Ten Mile Pond is still closed. 

Right now staff are crunching the numbers and will present the survey results at the public meetings. The survey results will be discussed at the various venues. You’re more than welcome to attend. 

I noticed the woods in Pool 3 and the east side of the wade and shoot were full of ducks the couple of days it was flooded from the heavy rainfall. When the water levels were reduced by 24" the abundance of ducks in pool 3 and the east side of Pool 8 vanished. The woods being flooded = lots of ducks. Water levels 24" lower = few ducks. It appears the spillways in pool three need to be raised if the goal is to attract more ducks. What do you think?

Is access to A Unit from Z Hwy and or around the lake? Any news of Ten Mile Pond Reopening???

Could the results of the more in depth survey be found anywhere? or could you give a brief perspective to the survey results? Thank You

You’re right, Roy, it is about that time to look at the season dates and boundary framework. The federal guidelines allow us to consider 5 options including the one you mentioned. 1) A statewide season with no zones or splits.  2) A statewide season with either one or two splits (no more than three segments), (segments being the open part of a season). 3) The option you mentioned, two zones with a split (two segments) in either or both zones. 4) Three zones with a split (two segments) in any or all three zones.  5) And four zones with no splits.  As you can imagine, preferences for season timing among Missouri duck hunters varies as widely as the habitats they hunt, the species they pursue, and the many hunting styles that are employed during a given season.   The challenge is to provide a balance that will accommodate at least a portion of most hunters’ desires.  In previous years hunter input has influenced changes to zone boundaries locations, like the one we saw down here with the South Zone, and maintained the framework of 3 zones with no splits.  As shown with the boundary changes, based upon your collective input the season framework could also possibly change in the future. Over the last 5 years we’ve been continuing keep track of waterfowl hunter preferences by sending out post season surveys to 5,500 individuals.  With the upcoming decision nearing, last year we ramped up the effort to include 20,000 migratory bird permit holders and the survey was more in depth.  With this information and the upcoming public meetings, we should have information available and the discussions needed to set things up for the next 5 years. Until these meetings happen, your guess is as good as mine.  Thanks for the question.

Duck migration and homing is truly something amazing.  From breeding ground studies we know that some ducks find their way back to the same spot within several meters of where they nested in previous years.  However, they are flexible enough that and if things don’t work out they might try another location the next. But even then, they may flip back to the old spot after a failed attempt there.  I believe migration probably follows the same pattern. Birds will follow the routes they’ve gone in the past, which is why we see an abundance of birds build up on traditional areas each year.  However, in years of drought or flood these animals will change their patterns a bit in order to find the resources they need to survive.   When you are flying over 800 to 1,300 miles seasonally, it makes sense to have some “go to” areas but also be flexible enough to take advantage of a free meal or go someplace else if an “exit is closed”.   In terms of proximity of Duck Creek to the Mississippi River, it does take a while to drive from Cape to Puxico. However, if you ever get up in the altitude, it is rather surprising how close and visible Pool 1 and the Mingo Basin actually is to the river from a birds perspective. Recent satellite telemetry research done with mallards has shown that the average leg of mid-continent migration is a bit over 300 miles.  So if you happen to be a duck flying down the river to cape and have already traveled 270 miles and the river is down with little adjacent flooded habitat, veering your trajectory over to the west a little where you’ve found water in the past isn’t too much out of your way. The fact that this is a big block of habitat that is consistently available each year probably helps it maintain this migratory tradition, even if it is slightly off the beaten path. 

I was always curious as to how many ducks find duck creek/mingo. I just always assumed that the bulk of the ducks follow the river systems which puts dc 30-40 miles away from the nearest major river. How much do ducks remember where they stopped on the flyway the previous year, if at all? Also, I was just curious as to what you think the possibility of Missouri going to two zones next year with a split. I know the time to discuss this is at the posted meetings, but I was just looking for your input. Thanks!

I apologize for the delayed response. As the recordings have indicated, no news is good news and the water levels haven’t affected hunting positions. 

Are water levels affecting hunting positions? Nothing has been mentioned on the recording when it is updated.

Thank you, we appreciate you and your support for conservation. May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Merry Christmas Duck Creek staff

I believe what you have described is sometimes called “rice-breast disease”.  The more technical term is sarcocystosis, which is a nonfatal parasite infection that is commonly observed and reported by waterfowl hunters. As the common name and your description suggests the parasite shows up in the breast muscle in the form of rice grain sized cysts. This can occur in a variety of fowl, but primarily species of dabbling ducks.  The lifecycle of this parasite is actually two-fold and requires both a bird and carnivore host to become complete.  Waterfowl become infected by ingesting the parasite’s eggs in contaminated water or plants.  When the eggs hatch in the bird’s intestine they move through the blood and form cysts in the muscle. When a carnivore eats the infected muscle tissue the parasite matures and produces eggs in the carnivore’s intestine.  The life cycle becomes complete as the carnivore sheds these eggs in its droppings and contaminates water or plants that may then be used by ducks.  While the cyst-infected breast meat doesn’t look appealing, proper cooking destroys all forms of the parasite and doesn’t pose a threat to human consumption. It is recommended not to feed uncooked infected meat to your dog as they can be a host to several species of parasite.  I hope this helps and provides a little more background on what you’ve seen. 

Frank I recently harvested some birds and when "breasting" the birds I noticed some "larvae" in the meat. I have been told the meat was ok to consume if properly prepared. This is not the first incident. Could you please elaborate on this phenomenon? Thank you.

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