The South Carolina Waterfowl Association has partnered with the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, the University of Georgia and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the annual movements of ring-necked ducks that winter in South Carolina. The research project is part of a larger study that is also focusing on ring-necked ducks that winter in South Georgia.
Why should we study these ducks?
Ring-necks are very important to South Carolina duck hunters. They consistently rank number 2, 3 or 4 in the annual South Carolina waterfowl harvest. From November 27-30th, 28 hens and 2 drakes were collected from the SCWA Black Dog duck pond and surgically implanted with satellite or GPS transmitters , 10 of which were funded by generous SCWA members. These radios will last for up to 10 months and will provide information on the movements and habitat preferences of ring-necked ducks throughout their wintering, spring migration, breeding and brood rearing portions of their annual life cycle.
To read more on this project, click here.
Tracking Data as of June 13, 2019
The map below shows where 15 marked ring-necked ducks settled. We suspect that almost all of these birds have initiated nests. The earliest, TWP, was nesting on April 18, while Arden was the latest to start a nest on May 26.
Of the 50 ducks that initiated migration from the wintering sites in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, most of them moved to the western half of the breeding range to nest. Three ducks died in migration or at their nesting sites. One bird was shot by a Cree Nation man in Manitoba, while Angel and JHP are designated on the map in Saskatchewan and Alberta as stars because they died relatively early, but had been at their final sites long enough to have started nests. Nesting females are certainly most vulnerable to predation at the nest. The transmitters for the two dead hens are still giving locations, but the temperature of the transmitter is low and matches the background environmental temperature — a sure sign the bird is dead.
The map below shows four ducks that are still regularly transmitting locations, but are still on the move. These ringnecks are going to be classified as non-breeders if they don’t settle very soon. We have long suspected that some females don’t initiate nests. The transmitters might increase the probability of a non-breeding event, as has been proven in other duck studies. The most interesting traveler is HMP, a duck that went to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories before heading south 540 miles to her current location in western Saskatchewan.
The map below show the ducks implanted with Ornitela transmitters that we believe are still functioning (21 hens). These newer transmitters collect location data more frequently and much more accurately (GPS accuracy) than the old-school Geotrak transmitters (exclusively used last year, half the transmitters this year). However, the downside of Ornitela transmitters for these remote, northern-nesting ducks is that they send the location data via cell phone signals, so there must be a cell tower near the bird when the transmitter turns on and tries to send location data. If there is no cell tower, then the transmitter stores the location data until the next timed transmission event. So, the map shows a lot of migration tracks, but most end where high human density civilization ends, as does the abundance of cell towers. One surprise is ringneck No. 182657, migrated to northern Ontario and stopped near one of the few cell towers in that fairly remote area.
A huge expected benefit of the Ornitela transmitters is that they last longer than Geotraks, so we are banking on our Ornitela females surviving the summer and then transmitting all the stored locations when they return south in early fall. We hope to get a goldmine of location data that shows the last parts of the spring migration, nesting sites, the sites where birds underwent their annual wing molts (flightless for three to four weeks), and the initial fall migration tracks. Of course, the ducks have to survive and the transmitters have to continue to function. This is the first use of these advanced transmitters for a northern nesting duck, so we have our fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, seven Geotrak transmitters quit reporting as the birds were migrating. These were all re-deployed transmitters, so it looks like recycling transmitters is not very effective.
Tracking maps and information are provided by Dr. Mark McConnell and graduate assistant Tori Mezebish of the University of Georgia.
Keep scrolling to see more photos and video from the project.