VSC helping in a study of Mottled Duck Use of Managed Wetlands in the ACE Basin

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Veterinary Specialty Care was excited to be able to help in this study by providing the sterilization of the transmitters.  We have been providing this for the second year now and are happy to be a part of something so interesting.

Read about the study here: Nemours Wildlife Foundation Research Update
Mottled Duck Use of Managed Wetlands in the ACE Basin

 

The Mottled Duck, a non-migratory resident duck in South Carolina, has become an important species particularly to waterfowl hunters since its introduction into the state in the 1970’s and 80’s.  However, information on the life cycle and habitat needs of this species is not well known.  As a result of this knowledge gap, research activities for the Mottled Duck were initiated by the Nemours Wildlife Foundation and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and supported by Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, and the Flyway Foundation, with further cooperation from USFWS and private landowners.  The goals of this research are to examine the general habitat use and movements during the fall and winter and to monitor their activities during the spring and summer seasons to examine the types of habitat Mottled Ducks use for nesting and raising their young.

In order to gather information for our research objectives, we captured 80 Mottled Duck hens during August and September of 2010 and fitted them with radio transmitters which would allow us to track their movements.  With the help of SCDNR staff, ducks were captured from an airboat at night using spotlights and dip nets.  We used two different transmitter attachment types to compare the effectiveness of the two units.  Forty hens were fitted with backpack style transmitters while the remaining 40 hens had transmitters surgically implanted.  The process of completing 40 implant surgeries in two days was the result of many individuals both inside and outside of the project organizations collaborating in a true team effort to complete the task.  Many hospitals, vet clinics, and equipment manufacturers were invaluable in their assistance by donating or loaning supplies, equipment, or other services.  Also, three local veterinarians volunteered their expertise and endured long, late night hours performing the surgeries.  The process went surprisingly smooth thanks to the efforts of all of those involved.  After the completion of the surgeries, the radio-marked birds were then released at their respective capture sites.

Since their release we have been tracking the ducks from the ground and from the air using a small aircraft equipped with antennas and a receiver to locate each duck’s unique radio-frequency.  The weekly aerial view of the ACE Basin is a much appreciated bonus to this research project.  During our aerial surveys, we have observed a few of these bird moving out of the ACE basin northward up the coast toward Georgetown, SC and also following the river systems inland but the majority of the birds we have kept track of are remaining in the ACE Basin area.

During spring and summer, Clay Shipes, a graduate student working towards his Masters degree under the direction of Dr. Brian Davis at Mississippi State University, will be searching for Mottled Duck nests in our study area.  To date, Clay has found a total of 36 nests, 21 of which are considered active.  Nesting activity peaked in May but has slowed in early June.  Nest searches will continue into July to detect a possible second peak in nesting activity.  As nests reach their conclusions, Clay will be analyzing the vegetation at nest sites to determine which factors may influence nest site selection and nest success.

As summer progresses, our research team will evaluate the activities during the first year of the project and begin to prepare for the second year of field work.  During late summer, with our telemetry equipment and surgical center in place, we will attempt to capture and radio-mark a second group of Mottled Duck hens.  As before, we will track their movements and examine their habitat preferences particularly during the all important breeding season.  The knowledge gained form this research partnership will help in developing wetland management practices that will benefit one of South Carolina’s important resident waterfowl species.

 

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