Researchers Marvel at Mysterious Wandering Hen

The Duck Blog

Researchers Marvel at Mysterious Wandering Hen

Posted 2018-08-28T23:03:00Z

Delta Waterfowl Study Continues to Shed Light on Ringnecks

Most of the marked hen ringnecks in Delta Waterfowl's continuing study settled into typical summer patterns. One took an unexpected journey, however. Photo © Erni/Shutterstock

What's the deal with Hen No. 173012?

No one's sure, but as part of Delta Waterfowl's continuing study of ring-necked ducks, she and her compatriots continue to provide new glimpses into the world of these important birds.

Hen No. 173012 and 13 other ringneck hens were implanted with transmitters at their wintering grounds beginning in November 2017. Nine are still transmitting, and researchers have tracked their movements during the birds' northbound spring migration and through summer.

In an Aug. 7 update, Delta said most of the marked ringneck hens remained settled within small summer ranges, which was typical of nesting, molting and brood rearing. No. 173012, however, had moved several hundred miles to the southwest in July, from Stephens Lake in Manitoba to Saskatchewan. Basically, it had backtracked to the area where it first arrived at the breeding grounds May 18. Another hen, No. 173011, made a shorter journey, also returning to the area it had visited initially during spring.

It's possible that hens 173011 and 173012 selected their molting sites in May before they nested and then returned after rearing a brood, the Delta release said.

Meanwhile, the other marked hens behaved pretty much as researchers had expected.

Hen No. 173019 is still hanging out on the same pond in the Northwest Territories, the release said. She is about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle, at what is considered to be the extreme edge of breeding range for ring-necked ducks. The hen has been there since July 3, so it's possible the duck has nested.

The study, conducted cooperatively by Delta and the University of Georgia, is exciting for several reasons. Ringnecks have been studied far less than any of the most harvested duck species. Further, they are expanding in numbers and range, so the study marks one of the first times researchers can study a duck species on the upswing. In addition, this is the first time researchers have implanted radio transmitters in ringnecks to study their movements. Banding data for the species is lacking, so biologists know relatively little about the birds' migration routes or breeding destinations.

Research will continue through 2018-'19. The current transmitters will soon run out of power. Researchers plan to fit up to 40 more ringnecks with transmitters late this fall at wintering grounds in Georgia and South Carolina, and that portion of the study might also include some drakes. After those transmitters cease working in Summer 2019, researchers can analyze data and look for conclusions.

Meanwhile, waterfowl geeks will continue to watch Hen No. 173012 and her buddies as they reveal more secrets about ringnecks.

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