MALLARD: Nesting structures will be monitored
Jeff Helsdon - Staff Writer
Wednesday February 08, 2006
The Tillsonburg News — It’s hoped an international partnership will result in more mallards nesting in the Great Lakes region.
The drive behind the initiative comes from hundreds of miles away. A group of South Carolina duck hunters called the Flyway Foundation noticed a drop in the number of mallards in the region. Research found 70 per cent of the mallards in South Carolina came from the Great Lakes region. A desire to help the situation resulted in the partnership.
The Canadian Prairies have typically been looked at as North America’s duck factory, producing the majority of species such as mallards. To increase productivity there, management practices such as delayed haying around ponds and planting nesting cover have been employed.
Dr. Scott Petrie, research director with the Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Fund, was contacted by the Flyway Foundation for his input into what could be done to boost mallard productivity in the Great Lakes region. He pointed to previous research done by Ducks Unlimited that found mallard productivity was much lower in the Great Lakes region than on the Prairies.
“Whereas on the Prairies if you had 60 acres of dense nesting cover, several pairs of mallards would use it, here in the same you would be lucky to have one,” he said.
Because paying farmers to plant nesting cover wasn’t justifiable, other alternatives were looked at to boost mallard productivity. The best of these was hen nesting boxes. Petrie said Delta Waterfowl Foundation used hen houses with a 90 to 95 per cent usage rate on the Prairies. There was a high success rate of duckling production with the boxes. Hen survival, which is an important factor in mallard population, increases with use of the boxes.
Although called nesting boxes, these structures are actually not boxes, but a cylinder. The structures are made from wire mesh rolled with straw between it.
Ontario is suffering from a lot of nesting habitat loss. Population of nesting predators, such as foxes, raccoons, skunk, opossums and others, are high in the province. One of the advantages of the nesting boxes is it’s difficult for predators to access them. Two different types of mounts are being experimented with to test predator resistance.
With this in mind, the Flyway Foundation donated 400 hen nesting boxes for use on the Great Lakes. Of those, 200 would be used in Pennsylvania and the other 200 in Ontario. Delta Waterfowl contributed $10,000 and the bases for the nesting boxes.
Petrie said it will be an experimental year for use of the hen boxes in different habitat types. Plans are to put 100 in coastal wetlands, rivers, irrigation ponds and seasonal wetlands in the Long Point area. The remainder will go on Lake St. Clair and wetlands in the Brantford and Hamilton areas.
Long Point Waterfowl and Research Fund staff will monitor usage of the nesting structures. Petrie isn’t expecting a high rate of mallard nesting in the first year, saying 20 per cent would be good. That rate is expected to increase over time.
“It’s kind of a learned behaviour in that ducklings come back to where they were born,” he said. “Utilization rates typically go up over time.”
Petrie has high hopes the work will increase duck production in this part of Ontario.
“If it works out it will provide an affordable way for farmers, hunt club owners and birders to increase mallard productivity much the same way as wood duck boxes do,” he said.
Sink or swim
In other work, the fund has tackled the contentious issue of loons ingesting lead. Last year the Canadian Wildlife Service proposed banning lead fishing tackle with the number one rationale being loons ingest lead tackle, resulting in mortality.
Petrie decided to look at the lead levels in the birds. He was able to collect 300 dead loons on Long Point’s beaches that died from botulism E during fall migration. Petrie explained loons die from botulism quickly and provide a good random sample from which to gauge the extent of lead ingestion. The study will also look into other contaminant levels in the birds.
The study is supported by a $10,000 donation from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.