HOW LOCAL WATERFOWL CO-OPS CAN IMPACT NATIONAL MANAGEMENT
"Each year, these birds inevitably leave to migrate across the continent irrespective of property boundaries. How well you, your neighbors, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations can work together to create landscapes of duck habitat is crucial to supporting and sustaining North American duck populations."
TORI MEZEBISH - UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND
On a local level, wetland management and how wetlands are distributed across the landscape, among other characteristics, can influence ducks’ movements. On the wintering grounds and within the hunting season alone, ducks can travel long distances, upwards of dozens of miles in a single day. So regardless of how much property you own, it would be just shy of a miracle for a duck to remain solely on your wetland(s) through the duration of the hunting season. Why do ducks cover such vast distances? To meet their basic biological needs and survive to make it back to the breeding grounds and reproduce, ducks must consume a diversity of food resources. Corn, rice, and other flooded crops are great sources of readily-available duck energy, but to meet their nutrient requirements ducks need a variety of additional food resources in the form of aquatic vegetation, seeds, tubers, and, especially as the breeding season nears, invertebrates. Moreover, ducks need areas to roost, find refuge from hunters and natural predators, preen, and participate in courtship - all while competing with one another for the same resources. No one wetland can satisfy all of those needs for the duration of the hunting
About the Author:
Tori Mezebish / PhD Student in Ecology and Ecosystem Sciences, URI
M.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management, UGA, 2019
B.S. in Animal Sciences, UMD, 2017
In certain parts of North America, the climate allows waterfowl to remain in the same region for their entire annual cycle. For example, residential wood ducks and hooded mergansers can stick around all year in the southeast. However, the same species are typically migratory in the northeast where resources are seasonally limited by temperature. Most North American ducks employ this migratory strategy, sometimes traveling thousands of miles to winter as far south as Mexico and South America, and breed as far north as Canada. When managing for ducks, these lengthy seasonal migrations must be accounted for. A duck’s ecology (its interactions with other critters and the various features of its habitat) during the portion of the year that it is on your and your neighbor’s properties can have consequences for the duck throughout the remainder of the year. Thus, landowner cooperation at multiple spatial and temporal scales is necessary to maintain quality waterfowl habitat across the annual cycle.
Why should managers in North Dakota care how ducks are managed in Louisiana or Mississippi and visa versa? Cross-seasonal effects, which are particularly important to the annual ecology of female ducks. The resources available to ducks on their wintering grounds directly influence their body condition and the energy stores they are able to gather, which can directly affect the timing of spring migration. Some females that are resource-limited on the wintering grounds may combat poor energy stores by spending additional time foraging upon arrival to the breeding grounds, rather than promptly searching for and initiating nests. Other females may take more and longer pitstops to forage and “recharge” during spring migration, ultimately delaying arrival to the breeding grounds. Late arrivals have a more limited choice of nest sites than the females arriving before them, reducing the probability that their nest(s) will hatch successfully. Ducklings that do hatch from nests that are initiated late are more resource-limited than earlier hatches, resulting in lower brood survival and a smaller fall population sizes. In a similar manner, the condition of ducks during the hunting season is limited by the resources available on the breeding grounds and at stopover sites during fall migration.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies work in partnership to maintain a network of national wildlife refuges and waterfowl management and production areas to provide duck habitat during whichever portion of the year ducks are present in the area, exemplifying cooperative duck management on a national level. Public lands managed cooperatively by federal and state agencies provide opportunity for hunters using the properties. But, particularly early in the fall when migration is just getting underway, public lands managers are also putting work into transient birds that need sufficient resources to complete migrations that will terminate during hunting seasons in other parts of the country. In these cases, managers may not directly see the rewards of their efforts but recognize the importance of maintaining a network of duck habitat at a national scale to benefit both duck populations and duck hunters.
Waterfowl abundance and diversity increase when wetlands are arranged in complexes. In an ideal world, this might mean a flooded ag impoundment near both an emergent wetland and managed moist soil unit. The bottom line is that complexes comprised of wetlands varying in size, depth, and vegetative structure can provide the diversity resources to better meet the biological and physiological needs of both puddle ducks and divers, increasing the number of species in your hunt. How can you create or mimic wetland complexes when there is only one pond on your property? Work with your neighbors! How are they managing their wetland(s) and how can you supplement duck habitat on your property relative to theirs? At the end of the day they aren’t “your ducks” or “their ducks.” Each year, these birds inevitably leave to migrate across the continent irrespective of property boundaries. How well you, your neighbors, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations can work together to create landscapes of duck habitat is crucial to supporting and sustaining North American duck populations.
Above: Author Tori Mezebish releasing a ring-necked duck fitted with a surgically applied radio-transmitter during her Masters research.
Tori is most interested in questions concerning where, why, and how waterfowl move -particularly in response to anthropogenic influences. She began her career in waterfowl at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (the home of the National Bird Banding Lab) before completing her MS at UGA where she studied the ecology of ring-necked ducks wintering in the southern Atlantic Flyway. She is currently pursuing a PhD at URI, studying the movement ecology of waterfowl wintering in southern New England. You can connect with her via email at and @tori_mez on Twitter.