Long Point Waterfowl’s Lake St. Clair Initiative: Habitat Selection and Survival of Mallards during Autumn-Winter, 2015-16

Final Report: Long Point Waterfowl’s Lake St. Clair Initiative: Habitat Selection and Survival of Mallards during Autumn-Winter, 2015-16

Goals and Objectives

The Lake St. Clair region of southwest Ontario has experienced significant waterfowl habitat loss from converting wetlands to agricultural fields. The habitat that remains is threatened by additional conversion in addition to stress from invasive species, industrial development (i.e. wind turbine development), and human population growth.

Despite the threats to the waterfowl habitat and the potential for increased future use, little is known about how waterfowl use the remaining habitat and the impacts on their survival during autumn and winter. This project will estimate waterfowl use of different habitat types and how this use is influenced by land management practices. Additionally, they will categorize different foraging strategies exhibited by the waterfowl to determine if these strategies influence their survival and how long they use the resources within the Lake St. Clair region.

Assessing which habitats are used by female Mallards and when they are most often utilized can provide area managers with important information on how to best manage the remaining waterfowl habitat. Additionally, identifying influences to survival could be very useful for conservation managers if they deem that Mallard survival during the non-breeding season needs to increase to manage the Great Lakes population of these ducks.

Research question(s):

  1. Does foraging strategy (i.e., differences is habitat selection) influence survival of adult female Mallards?
  2. Does foraging strategy of adult female Mallards influence temporal differences in departure from the Lake St. Clair region?
  3. Are there differences in distances of foraging flights and potential habitat switching throughout autumn and winter?
  4. Are there differences in survival of adult female Mallards on and off permanent spatial refuges in the region?


Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

This project will indirectly influence how the 25,409 acres of wetland habitat in counties adjacent to Lake St. Clair (Lambton, Essex, Kent) are managed and thus they estimate that their project will indirectly enhance 25,409 acres of wetland habitat in the region.

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

The Lake St. Clair region is incorporated into the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Joint Venture (UMRGLJV) focus area and this JV has identified the non-breeding season and conservation and management of non-breeding season habitats as a priority.

New technology for tracking species that migrate over large areas has been rapidly developing as transmitters have become smaller and lighter. Currently, a new type of transmitter that uses Global Positioning through Satellites have shown great success in following waterfowl without the interfering with normal behavior. Using this technology, they will be able to remotely track birds while they are in the Lake St. Clair region and when they depart the study area. Using GPS satellite transmitters will allow for multiple accurate daily location estimates on each individual bird over several seasons. Additionally, remote data retrieval methods via cell towers has significantly reduced price of GPS transmitters and data recovery. This development has the potential to allow for increased sample sizes comparable to previous studies using other technologies.

Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

The project will directly and indirectly influence wetland habitat conservation by identifying areas of greatest conservation need and detailing knowledge gaps that limit the ability of conservation organizations to develop science-based management directives. Long Point Waterfowl intends to work with their conservation partners to reduce knowledge gaps through focused research so that wildlife benefits can be maximized on the limited acres of wetlands remaining in the Lake St. Clair region. The research will influence wetland habitat conservation by identifying areas of greatest use as well as seasonal nutritional limitations, which will aid science-based management directives.

A variety of organizations will benefit from this research conducted in the Lake St. Clair region. Long Point Waterfowl and other organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, Ducks Unlimited Inc. Nature Conservancy Canada, Ontario MNR, St. Clair Region CA, and the Canadian Wildlife Service will use the information derived from this research in population modeling and conservation strategies for the region. They also hope that that this research will help to inform individuals and organizations about the importance of Lake St. Clair and associated habitats.

Project Location

Lake St. Clair is considered one of the most important areas for migratory waterfowl and other migratory waterbirds in North America. Of the 12 million waterfowl that migrate through the Lower Great Lakes region each year, a substantial portion of those birds migrate through, and stage at, Lake St. Clair. However, wetland loss tops 1 million acres in counties adjoining Lake St. Clair, making it a priority to understand the importance of, and protect, key remaining habitats and determine how to maximize benefits for the diversity of migratory birds that depend on this ever shrinking resource.

Economic benefits of waterfowl hunting and outdoor recreation in the Lake St. Clair region are in the millions of dollars, and are important to the rural economy of the region. For these reasons, Lake St. Clair NWA is designated as a Ramsar wetland of international importance and the Lake St. Clair region is designated as an Important Bird Area. Recent and continued pressure on wetland habitats from agricultural and development interests, as well as decreases in wetland habitat quality from invasive species have continued to degrade these critical migratory habitats.

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Matthew Palumbo, PhD Candidate, Port Rowan, ON.