South Carolina Mottled Duck Research Project

Shedding light on the Lowcountry mottled duck population

Project updates

Sept. 20, 2010  In addition to the birds we are tracking from our captures this fall, researchers are tracking 4 female mottled ducks from the 2009 pilot study. The pilot study consisted of 12 implanted birds, of which 8 were adult females, or after hatch year (AHY) birds. The remaining 4 were juveniles, also referred to as hatch-year (HY) ducks by biologists. Of the 12 birds radio-tagged in the pilot study, 3 females are known mortalities, 4 are currently being tracked and the remaining birds have not been detected in 3 months or more.

Sept. 15, 2010  Wednesday's tracking flight located 49 instrumented female mottled ducks, including 22 of the 27 that were released wearing backpack-style transmitters on Sept. 9. No mortalities were located during the flight. The next flight is scheduled for Sept. 22, weather permitting.

All updates on page 2 »

Biologists attach a radio transmitter to a female mottled duck in SC
Wildlife biologist Eddie Mills of the Nemours Plantation Wildlife Foundation (left) and SC DNR waterfowl biologist Dean Harrigal secure a harness-style transmitter to a female mottled duck at Nemours Plantation, S.C.

Study background

Ducks Unlimited and its partners initiated research in August 2010 to investigate the habitat use, movements, breeding season parameters and survival of female mottled ducks in coastal South Carolina. Female mottled ducks will be captured and radio marked over a three-year period to investigate the research objectives. Birds for the project are caught in August at night, using an airboat and spotlights to find the birds while they are roosting. August is typically when female mottled ducks undergo their annual molt, rendering them flightless. Once captured, all birds receive a federal band, and suitable hens are retained for radio instrumentation. Instrumented females will be tracked using telemetry techniques both on the ground and from fixed-wing aircraft. Our goal is to instrument 80 female mottled ducks per year during the three-year study. [more]

All project updates

Sept. 20, 2010

In addition to the birds we are tracking from our captures this fall, researchers are tracking 4 female mottled ducks from the 2009 pilot study. The pilot study consisted of 12 implanted birds, of which 8 were adult females, or after hatch year (AHY) birds. The remaining 4 were juveniles, also referred to as hatch-year (HY) ducks by biologists. Of the 12 birds radio-tagged in the pilot study, 3 females are known mortalities, 4 are currently being tracked and the remaining birds have not been detected in 3 months or more.

Sept. 15, 2010

Wednesday's tracking flight located 49 instrumented female mottled ducks, including 22 of the 27 that were released wearing backpack-style transmitters on Sept. 9. No mortalities were located during the flight. The next flight is scheduled for Sept. 22, weather permitting.

Sept. 9, 2010

Capture for year one of the projects is complete, with 80 female mottled ducks radio-marked for research. Forty female mottled ducks (50% adult and 50% juvenile birds) have been captured and instrumented with radio transmitters which were implanted surgically in the abdominal cavity. An additional 40 females have been instrumented with harness-style transmitters. Twenty-five of these birds are adult females.

Sept. 8, 2010

Using telemetry and fixed-wing aircraft, researchers were able to locate 27 instrumented birds out of the 53 that were deployed at the time. Fourteen female mottled ducks have not been located on the 2 previous flights; however, researchers have not covered the full extent of their possible range outside the ACE basin.

Sept. 1, 2010

As of Sept. 1, 40 female mottled ducks have been captured and instrumented with radio transmitters which were implanted surgically in the abdominal cavity. Volunteer surgeons trained in the methodology performed the surgeries using accepted veterinarian methods. An additional 14 females have been instrumented with Dwyer or harness-style transmitters.

All birds are carefully monitored following surgeries and are released at the site of capture the next morning. Researchers will compare and contrast the 2 transmitter styles used in the project.

Full study background

Ducks Unlimited and its partners initiated research in August 2010 to investigate the habitat use, movements, breeding season parameters and survival of female mottled ducks in coastal South Carolina. Female mottled ducks will be captured and radio marked over a three-year period to investigate the research objectives. Birds for the project are caught in August at night, using an airboat and spotlights to find the birds while they are roosting. August is typically when female mottled ducks undergo their annual molt, rendering them flightless. Once captured, all birds receive a federal band, and suitable hens are retained for radio instrumentation. Instrumented females will be tracked using telemetry techniques both on the ground and from fixed-wing aircraft. Our goal is to instrument 80 female mottled ducks per year during the three-year study.

The project location will include areas in South Carolina's Lowcountry, primarily within the 350,000-acre ACE Basin near Green Pond. The study area includes Charleston, Colleton and Beaufort counties.

Mottled ducks (Anas fulvigula) were introduced into South Carolina from 1976 to 1981 to increase hunting opportunities along the coast. Approximately 1,200 mottled ducks from Texas and Louisiana were released at four sites along the coast, and the population has now expanded to include other areas. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources estimates the current population to be near 20,000 birds. However, little is known about the ecology and habitat requirements of the mottled duck in South Carolina, particularly its nesting and brood-rearing needs.

The proposed research will increase our understanding of the ecology of the mottled duck and will provide information that waterfowl managers need to develop best management practices for the mottled duck in South Carolina. Graduate student researchers from Mississippi State University will conduct the research and summarize results. The results will be published as a graduate student thesis and submitted for peer-reviewed publication in scientific journals. Results will also be communicated to local landowners and managers through workshops and printed materials, as well as through various DU communications.

DU has committed $122,500 over the next three years for the project. Our partners for this important research include the Nemours Plantation Wildlife Foundation, South Carolina DNR and Mississippi State University.