Despite Cold Weather, Three Birds Make Big Flights North
Spring might seem like a distant rumor to Northern states, but Delta Waterfowl’s marked ring-necked ducks have already started their spring migration.
From Feb. 21 through March 6, according to an online update of the organization’s groundbreaking ringneck project, three of the effort’s birds were on the move. The extreme northward movements of two ringnecks were interesting considering the persistently cold winter weather in the Midwest and Northeast.
From Feb. 24 through 26, a hen named Daphne migrated about 700 miles to an Indianapolis, Indiana, suburb from the Red Hills area of southern Georgia/northern Florida, and then flew another 100 miles north to Lake Manitou near Rochester, Indiana.
Another Red Hills-marked duck (PVW) that had been on the Savannah River in eastern Georgia jumped north Feb. 27 to Lake Marion, South Carolina, staging near other ringnecks Delta has implanted with transmitters in that state.
The third migrator (177176) flew 630 miles up the Atlantic Flyway, originating in South Carolina but traveling to wetlands near Newton, New Jersey.
Another South Carolina ringneck (177183) died. The duck had been missing since Jan. 11, and the transmitter pinged in with low body temperatures at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. Researchers will attempt to recover the duck to retrieve the transmitter and more data.
The study’s remaining reporting ducks hadn’t moved far. The average home range for the Red Hills ringnecks was 22,750 acres, and the South Carolina ducks averaged 21,700 acres.
Beginning Nov. 28, 2018, Delta Waterfowl and its research partners inserted transmitters in 61 ringnecks — 30 originating in South Carolina and 31 more in southern Georgia and northern Florida. This season’s study, the second in a two-year effort, includes two drakes. In November 2017, Delta implanted radios in 15 ringneck hens in the same area of Georgia and Florida. The transmitters let Dr. Mark McConnell and graduate assistant Tori Mezebish, of the University of Georgia, track movements of the hens at their wintering grounds and allowed them to follow the ducks’ spring migration to Canadian breeding grounds before the transmitter batteries expired.
The study, conducted cooperatively by Delta and the University of Georgia, is exciting for several reasons. Ringnecks have been studied far less than any of the most harvested duck species. Further, they are expanding in numbers and range, so the study marks one of the first times researchers can study a duck species on the upswing. In addition, this is the first time researchers have implanted radio transmitters in ringnecks to study their movements. Banding data for the species is lacking, so biologists know relatively little about the birds’ migration routes or breeding destinations.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.