Locate Areas with a Combination of Food and Resting Habitat
Dr. Mark Petrie is director of conservation planning at Ducks Unlimited's Vancouver, Washington
, office. Four years ago DU staff participated in a study led by Dan Buffett and others from DU Canada to track duck movements in the Puget Sound−Fraser River delta along the Washington−British Columbia border. Specifically, the study focused on ducks' use of estuaries in these areas.
"It was previously assumed that ducks used estuaries that were close to agricultural food sources more than estuaries that had natural foods but no ready access to agricultural zones," Petrie explains. "We wanted to see if this was true. If so, this would help us identify and conserve the estuaries of greatest importance to ducks that pass through or winter in these study areas.
"We radio-marked 200 northern pintails
and American wigeon
, and monitored their movements from when they arrived in October until they left in March. Our study verified the earlier belief that the estuaries in close proximity to agricultural foods held ducks for much longer periods of time than areas with estuaries only. In these latter areas the ducks left when natural food sources in the estuaries were depleted. But they hung around all winter long in areas where the combination of estuaries and agricultural food sources existed." (Wigeon foraged heavily on green grasses planted as winter cover crops in harvested agricultural fields, and pintails primarily consumed leftover potatoes and waste grain in harvested fields.)
What is the lesson here for duck hunters? The answer is obvious: areas with a combination of safe resting habitat and plentiful agricultural foods will attract more ducks and hold them longer than other areas.
Waterfowlers should scout as much as time allows to find this preferred combination of food and refuge. Find the groceries in close proximity to healthy wetland habitat where waterfowl can rest without being disturbed, and you'll likely find lots of ducks.
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