Originally created 09/09/01

Wood ducks surprise Georgia scientists

Most ducks fly south for the winter, but it appears some of Georgia's ducks fly west.

A Georgia Department of Natural Resources study initiated last year to determine migration habits of wood ducks found that some of the wandering waterfowl migrate west - to Mississippi.

"One year's data, obviously, can't be used to draw too many conclusions," said DNR biologist Haven Barnhill. "But it was surprising. Historically, it was thought that Southern wood ducks are considered non-migratory."

Biologists trapped and banded 336 wood ducks last year, including 56 adult males, 81 adult females, 114 juvenile males and 84 juvenile females - and two others of unknown sex.

During the 2000-2001 waterfowl hunting seasons, 17 banded ducks were harvested. Their tag information was reported back to wildlife authorities. Four of those ducks turned up out of state.

"These four recoveries seem to indicate a migration pattern toward the lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley," according to a report summary by state waterfowl biologist Greg Balkcom.

Birds banded on Clarks Hill Wildlife Management Area near Augusta and the Arrowhead Wildlife Management Area turned up in Bayou Pierre, Miss., and a swamp near Natchez, Miss. Other Georgia birds turned up in New Hebron, Miss, and Pine Hill, Ala.

"One possible explanation would be that these birds were forced to leave their normal range because of unusually cold weather during November and December of 2000 and early January 2001," Balkcom said in the report.

However, he added, severe weather patterns likely would have compelled a much larger percentage of ducks to migrate.

"Another possible explanation would be that a given portion of Georgia's wood ducks migrate to the Lower Mississippi Valley every year, but these movements have never been noticed or published in the past," his report said.

Biologists are repeating the study again this season to see whether there is a pattern, Barnhill said. However, efforts to trap and band wood ducks this summer and fall have been hampered by hot, dry weather.

"We haven't been too successful trapping ducks so far," he said. "We're working, in this part of Georgia, on Clarks Hill, Lake Russell, Phinizy Swamp and several private ponds, but so far our success in trapping and banding has been pretty poor."

All ducks trapped and banded are immediately released on site and not relocated, he said.


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