‘Hard to be a duck’: DEEP wants more public input for mallard nest research

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The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is conducting a large-scale assessment of mallard nesting success, including brood movement and habitat selection.

The Wildlife Division encourages the public to participate by submitting information about nests they encounter this year and in 2023.

According to the DEEP mallard educational webpage, “The male or ‘drake’ can be recognized by its bright green head and white neckband. It has a yellow beak, a rusty chest and a white tail. The female is mottled with brown and has an orange-yellow beak and a whitish tail. Both have orange feet and a blue speculum (spot on their wing) framed by a white bar on each side.

Migratory Bird Program Manager Min Huang said the statewide initiative began due to concerns about declining mallard populations on the Atlantic coast over the past decade.

“Here in our state, we decided we wanted to look at a critical aspect of the life cycle of any organism, that of reproduction,” he said.

Huang noted that few mallard nesting studies have been done in the east. Most research has been conducted in the Prairies and western North America.

“We developed the study four years ago, but unfortunately COVID put it on the back burner for a few years,” he said. “We were able to start the work last year, but this year is really our first real push. We got good data last year, but this year we are really on track.

DEEP focuses on mallard habitats and what that means for nesting success in Connecticut.

“Typically on the prairies you see about 15 to 20 percent nesting success and that’s usually a good number,” Huang said. “We want to know, how is the nesting success going here? Where do these birds nest and what types of habitats lend themselves to better nesting success? »

To successfully nest, researchers study how many ducklings survive to fledging and whether the area they are in is a factor.

“Flight is when they are able to fly and they are basically on their own,” Huang explained.

Typically, the mallard’s average clutch size is around ten eggs.

“Of these ten, overall, 90% hatch if the nest is successful. In each nest there may be one infertile egg – sometimes there is none, sometimes there are a few,” said he declared.

The study will also take into account brood movement, where the mother takes her ducklings after they hatch.

Predators are another factor in this assessment as mallards face many adversaries.

“Over the past 20 to 30 years, our state has become much more populated. Human development is everywhere,” Huang said. “Our habitats have become more fragmented and with this fragmentation we have seen a huge increase in the median size of mesopredators – raccoons, foxes, coyotes – not to mention the largest predators – bobcats and bears.”

He later added: “Duckling survival is quite low. It’s hard to be a duck.

However, if DEEP can learn which habitats mallards thrive or struggle in, they can work to make improvements in bird survival.

“On the properties that we control at DEEP, maybe we can change some of our management practices to make those areas a little more conducive to high success. The more information we can gather, the better we can try, at least to have a better outcome,” he said.

DEEP is currently tracking the progress of mallard duck nests from Greenwich to Woodstock.

The work does not stop there, however. DEEP “radios” the birds to follow the ducklings after they hatch to see how they are doing.

“We are currently installing GPS radios on some of these hens. The radios download data from the cell phone network, so we don’t need to recapture the birds to get the data. We can watch what the birds are doing basically in real time,” Huang said.

Audience participation

DEEP’s work will continue through August as the birds are still re-nesting and some are trying to nest for the first time.

“Our technicians have been to marshes where we know birds are nesting at some point and try to find nests that way. It’s really the most traditional way of trying to find nests,” Huang explained.

Already this year, the public has helped the study tremendously by providing a variety of nesting locations across the state.

“When you start looking where these birds are nesting, there’s no way to find them on our own,” Huang said.

Some people have reported finding mallard duck nests in their backyards, in the woods, near swimming pools or bodies of water, under arbors, near a fireplace, and even in parking lots.

“Mallards basically nest anywhere, we find. The public has really been a big help to us in identifying the nests and letting us know, so that we can then follow up,” he said.

Those who come across a mallard nest can email Huang at [email protected] with the subject line clearly stating “Mallard Nest”.

Huang expects the data to be made public throughout the study, including updates later this year and next year.

To learn more about mallards, visit portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Mallard.

Journalist Alissa Silber can be reached at [email protected]

A brown mother mallard sits with her fluffy ducklings at their waterside nest in Torrington. Mallards generally nest on the ground, but can also nest up to 25 feet high in trees. —photos courtesy of Min T. Huang

Nestled in a depression in the ground, surrounded by leaves and twigs, is a mallard duck nest with 11 greenish-buff eggs. If the public sees a nest, they can report it to DEEP to help with their ongoing study.

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