by Beau Bauer
Last Spring, we reported the expansion of the wood duck study across eight states: Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The primary objective of the study is to estimate the contribution of artificial nest boxes to wood duck recruitment (the number of female adults and ducklings that survive to subsequent breeding seasons). This vital rate drives population growth within box-nesting populations and such data are lacking across the southeastern United States and is necessary to assess the effectiveness of nest boxes and economics of associated nest-box programs. Graduate students are also addressing how surrounding habitat conditions, nest parasitism, microbial communities, and nest box characteristics may affect box use, nesting success, and recruitment.
Management techniques to deter predation by snakes, woodpeckers, and mammals are also being evaluated. We wrapped up the 2020 field season in late July with results far exceeding our expectations. First, we thank our partners and cooperators from the University of Delaware (Dr. Chris Williams); Clemson University’s James C. Kennedy Waterfowl & Wetlands Conservation Center (Dr. Richard Kaminski); Mississippi State University (Dr. Brian Davis, James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation); Louisiana State University (Dr. Kevin Ringelman); Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana state wildlife agencies; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System; and the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. Their collaboration, logistical, and financial support have made this possible. The big “shout out” goes to the graduate students: Emily Miller and Jacob Shurba [Clemson University], Taylor Gibson [Mississippi State University], and Dylan Bakner [Louisiana State University], and the field technicians: Tori Mezebish [University of Delaware]; Nathanial Simmons [Maryland DNR]; Cindy Von Haugg, Haley Keff, Sam Fishman, Jake Merendino, Dylan Sanborn, Chuck Farrell, Sam Sauber, Hannah Schley, and Joseph Kizior [Clemson University/Nemours Wildife Foundation]. Thank you all for the dedicated and hard work!
We wrapped up the 2020 field season in late July with results far exceeding our expectations.
Now, to the numbers. We sampled 1,272 nest boxes from 15 study sites across the aforementioned states. We documented 1,102 boxes used (87%) with 1,902 unique nesting attempts. Of these nesting attempts we recorded 883 successful (46%), 383 abandoned (20%), 489 depredated (26%), and 146 other/unknown (8%) nest fates. We captured 1,259 incubating females (including black-bellied whistling ducks and hooded mergansers) and deployed 897 new leg bands. Overall, we recaptured 390 incubating females from nest boxes. We also marked 4,445 wood duck ducklings with web tags across 8 states and another 581 and 504 wood duck and black-bellied whistling duck ducklings, respectively, with PIT tags in Louisiana. Finally, we collected measurements (mass, breadth, height) from 20,010 eggs! Combined with multiple habitat surveys and nest box measurements, we compiled a massive amount of data…for just one year!
As we begin our third field season, you will see some familiar faces and some new, along with the possibility of new study sites as additional states have expressed interest in joining and expanding this partnership. This is great news and highlights the importance of cooperative research as we continue to grow our “flock” to better understand waterfowl ecology throughout the southeastern United States.