Habitat Selection by Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) overwintering at Lake Ontario

Final Project Report: Movement Patterns and Habitat Selection by Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) overwintering at Lake Ontario, 2012-2013

Goals and Objectives

The primary focus of sea duck research (tribe Mergini) has been during breeding, despite the fact that non-breeding conditions can influence
survival and fitness in waterfowl. Research and conservation of sea ducks and their winter habitats is a priority because, 1/ knowledge of
factors during winter that may regulate populations of sea ducks are relatively limited and 2/ the potential for development and other
anthropogenic impacts in coastal regions used by sea ducks. Furthermore, since data describing winter concentrations and habitat use
of sea ducks remain somewhat limited, additional research describing abundances, distributions, and habitat selection by sea ducks during
winter would aid in refinement of sea duck conservation strategies.

Decisions to develop offshore areas of the Great Lakes with industrial wind turbines (IWTs) are influenced by environmental variables (e.g. water
depth, substrate type, wind fetch) that affect economic returns on financial investments. Because of increased interest in development of IWTs
throughout the LGL and their potential overlap with areas selected by long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis; LTDU) and the flight corridors that
they use to access foraging locations from roosting locations during winter, studies to determine movement patterns and habitat selection of
sea ducks in nearshore and offshore locales have become increasingly important.

Our objective is to investigate environmental variables hypothesized to influence movement patterns and habitat selection by LTDU implanted
with Platform Transmitting Terminals (PTT) satellite transmitters, during winter at Lake Ontario. Modeling movement and habitat selection by
LTDU will help guide coastal development (e.g. IWTs) at Lake Ontario and could be used to forecast how climatic variability may influence the
suitability of habitat for these ducks at this wintering location.

The goals of this project are:

1) Increase knowledge and analytical thinking, and share information within the waterfowl research community, ,

2) Describe movement patterns and habitat selection of Long-tailed ducks, and to describe wintering populations of waterfowl in both the
near-shore and offshore areas of Lake Ontario,

3) Be able to predict future habitat use of Long-tailed ducks and potential impact of offshore IWTs, and

4) Engage and educate the public on local waterfowl studies and display Long-tailed duck movements.

 

Activities

December 2011 and March 2012: Field captures of Long-tailed ducks, implant adult ducks with satellite transmitters.

December 2012-April 2013: Aerial surveys to document waterfowl species compositions, abundances, and winter distributions at Lake
Ontario.

June 2012: Create predictive models for future habitat use of Long-tailed ducks, and potential impact of offshore IWTs.

 

Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

Identifying habitats important to foraging and roosting sea ducks prior to IWT installation is critical because placement of IWTs may impact
movement patterns (barrier effect) and foraging habitat. Recent technological advances in satellite telemetry now enable researchers to
examine seasonal and daily movements (including nocturnal movements), variability in habitat use throughout the annual cycle, and develop
models of habitat selection of wildlife.

Determining how environmental conditions influence animal movements enables development of predictive models of habitat selection.
Movement patterns and habitat selection by animals are used to infer habitat quality, estimate minimum space requirements, and evaluate
the plasticity of individuals to habitat change. Studies of movements and habitat selection by animals also can reveal mechanisms underlying
animal distributions (i.e. resource needs). Satellite telemetry technology enables ecologists to determine habitat use of sea ducks wintering
in offshore habitats and in combination with nearshore habitat use, can delineate home range (area traversed by an animal in its normal
activities) and core use areas (selected areas of concentrated use within the home range). Movement distances, home range and core area
delineation are useful in developing spatially explicit movement and habitat selection models.

 

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

In addition to LTDUs, other migratory game birds with overlapping life history strategies (i.e. bufflehead, common goldeneye, scoter spp.,
scaup spp., merganser spp.) at Lake Ontario will benefit through refinement of conservation planning documents that include important near-shore
habitats used for resting and refueling during seasonal staging and migration, and through efforts to properly place IWTs.

 

Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

Direct: Satellite data would enable managers and developers to make informed decisions about site placement of industrial wind turbines that would
minimize impacts to LTDU, other waterfowl and their staging and wintering habitats.

Indirect: Maintain the current ecological integrity at Lake Ontario.

 

Project Location

This research project was conducted across the entire Lake Ontario basin, including; Northumberland, Toronto, Prince Edward Counties; and Hamilton,
Toronto and Picton municipalities.

 

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Dr. Scott Petrie, Executive Director, Long Point Waterfowl, Port Rowan, Ontario