Habitat selection and survival of nesting Wood Duck hens and broods along Big Creek in the Long Point Region

Final Project Report: Habitat selection and survival of nesting Wood Duck hens and broods along Big Creek in the Long Point Region, 2013-14

Goals and Objectives

Wood Ducks are among the most commonly harvested bird by southern Ontario waterfowl hunters. 
Despite their importance in hunter bags and to early season hunting success, data on survival and
habitat needs of local breeding females and broods are very limited.

Long Point Waterfowl will investigate habitat selection and survival of nesting Wood Duck hens and
broods along Big Creek in the Long Point Region. Because the number of hens returning to breed
and those selecting the area to nest influences population size, developing an understanding of
these metrics is of primary importance in developing science-based management recommendations
for the Long Point region. In 2012 we located, labeled and mapped 117 Wood Duck boxes on the
Bayou Club property, and collected data for each box. We will begin a banding and radio-telemetry
program in Spring 2013 to gain knowledge of habitat selection and survival of Wood Duck hens and
broods.

Data from radio-tracking Wood Duck hens and ducklings (i.e., broods) will be used to quantify
selection of habitat types by these birds. We also will measure availability of habitat types to
determine selection (used vs. available) and habitat dependent survival of Wood Duck hens and
broods. In contrast to other studies that determined selection of gross habitat types (e.g., wooded
swamp), we will determine finer scale habitat attributes such as percentage of woody vegetation,
emergent vegetation, and overhead cover used by Wood Duck broods.  Determining habitat
dependent survival of wood ducks 
to fledging will help refine conservation strategies for this important
game bird.


Specific Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

Understanding habitat use and survival of Wood Duck hens and broods hatched from boxes and
natural cavities in southern Ontario will refine our knowledge of the habitat needs for these highly
sought after game birds and result in development of a habitat management manual that will be
available to private landowners so they can maximize high quality Wood Duck habitat on their
properties.   

Habitat models produced by our wood duck research will help conservation planners to prioritize
conservation, restoration, and enhancement projects in the Long Point region to maximize wood
duck production on private and public properties.   On private lands, providing science-based
guidance for wood duck management increases the likelihood of landowner support for wetland
conservation, restoration, and enhancement projects that also will benefit a diversity of waterfowl,
wetland-associated birds, and other migratory game birds.  In addition, identification of natural
cavities used by nesting wood ducks in bottomland hardwoods has the potential to garner support
for conservation of older growth bottomland forests and “wildlife trees” in the Long Point region.


Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetlands-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

By determining habitat dependent survival of Wood Duck hens and broods we will be able to refine
wetland conservation strategies to include habitat specific recommendations (e.g., conservation
and management for a specific percentage of buttonbush/other wood vegetation in oxbow marshes). 
Because we intend to determine habitat selection (use vs. availability) and resulting survival of
Wood Duck broods we also will be able to identify potential “ecological sinks”, whereby Wood
Duck hens and brood select habitats but survival to fledging is relatively low in these locales.
Bottomland hardwood wetland systems used by Wood Ducks for breeding also are important
resting and foraging areas during spring and autumn staging by these migratory waterfowl as well
as American Woodcock. Thus, identification of important habitats for conservation for Wood Ducks
also will provide support for conservation of habitat for the diversity of migratory game birds that use
bottomland hardwood riverine systems in southern Ontario throughout the annual cycle.


Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

The abundance of natural cavities, their use relative to nest boxes and the return from nest box
programs in southern Ontario (cost per duckling produced) are relatively unknown and such
information would help inform Wood Duck management and production in the region. Thus, initial
phases towards development of management practices aimed at increasing the abundance of
Wood Ducks producing in southern Ontario include determining 1) use of nest boxes and 2) habitat
dependent survival of Wood Duck hens and broods. As funding becomes available we also will
radio-track Wood Duck hens in early spring to identify natural cavity use in the region and assess
availability of natural cavities in southern Ontario. Identifying quality habitats that result in fledging of
Wood Ducks and habitats that sustain natural cavities will enable focused conservation of these
habitats as well as management recommendations to private, non-profit, and government
organizations to enhance and restore habitats for migratory game birds using the Long Point region.
 

Project Location

Norfolk County, Ontario. 


Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Dr. Michael Schummer, Scientist, Long Point
Waterfowl, Ontario.