ADDISON, Vermont (WCAX) – Vermont Fish and Wildlife is participating in a new study of a common bird in the Northeast, the mallard. There are concerns for the duck and its future.
Mallard ducks can be spotted feeding in shallow waters across the state, and officials say they’re the most common duck you see today, but it wasn’t always the case.
David Sausville/Vt. Fish and Wildlife: Historically they weren’t very common in the area, but they’ve been accumulating since the 1930s and in recent years have become the most common and popular duck in the waterway. Atlantic migration.
Reporter Ike Bendavid: Are they a bird native to Vermont?
David Sausville: Traditionally, they weren’t there. They were more of a Midwestern bird. And with the changes in terrain and the opening up of agriculture, it made it more grassland-like, so the birds adapted to using that area. And also the birds, in the early 1900s people had captive flocks. Some were used as live lures, some were bred for food. And when they stopped doing that, they released those and they were birds that came from Europe.
Ike Bendavid: How are the people today?
David Sausville: The population is still stable, in many ways, in good shape. But we’ve seen a slow decline over the last 20 years… We do surveys every spring for breeding pairs to get a sense of their health and it’s gone from about 1.5 million to about 1 million in the last 20-25 months. years.
Ike Bendavid: And why is there this decline?
David Sausville: That’s what we were looking at in the study, is that we weren’t sure. There are a lot of hypotheses – habitat change as survival changes, is there a difference between native birds and genetics and old world mallards, and maybe there’s a mix – and it’s something they’re looking at. We are not sure and that is why the study continues through the flyway.
Ike Bendavid: Explain the study. Who is involved and when did it start?
David Sausville: The study really started this winter. We started trapping the birds in January and it’s been involved from Maine to Virginia, a cooperative project for the entire Atlantic Flyway. And we also have partners in Canada. We welcome graduate students and people from Ducks Unlimited.
Ike Bendavid: And what are you doing?
David Sausville: Last February, we trapped eight mallards. We only trap chickens and we put satellite transmitters that have a solar unit, so that these birds can carry them for at least two years. It collects data every six hours on these birds and it marks the location, what is their activity, which marks whether they survive or not, mortality signal. We can go find the bird and try to figure out what it died of. And the overall study looks at the habitat they use. What are the survival rates, where do they move them, and that’s very interesting. It takes the GPS location of these birds and when they come in close contact with a cell tower, it uploads that information, we can verify it, and graduate students can monitor the situation.
Ike Bendavid: Will this information give any idea or answers as to why this population is declining?
David Sausville: We look at all the factors as to why the population – we look at the life cycle of the bird throughout the year, so the spring on the nest, the flights in the fall – do they survive a severe winter? And we try to go to those nest sites and watch them and follow the broods and see how the broods survive… If you look at this long term, any species in decline, you have to know why they’re declining. Is it something we’ve done? Can we fix this with regional or local habitat changes or is it maybe something with a hunting regulation? Or is it something we don’t know? If you think about the other common species we had, our bats were very common, and then disease sets in and we’re at the endangered species level. It can happen to populations if you don’t monitor and care for them long term.
The state’s long-term plan is to continue the study for four years and achieve actionable results by 2028.
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