80 Trackers Implanted in Mallards in the Dakotas

It was a long trip but it’s successfully completed! After six weeks of traveling around the Dakotas following teams of biologists and technicians, we were able to implant trackers in 62 ducks. An additional 18 were implanted by a veterinarian I trained. The study’s primary investigator, Cynthia Anchor, is a graduate student at South Dakota State University.

It was Cindy’s second (and final) year of field work for her master’s thesis study. After she gets all the mud out of her hair and field gear (duck work is very dirty business), she’ll be spending the fall and winter analyzing the data from both years and preparing her thesis.

Cindy Anchor preparing to release a mallard after tracker implantation. You can see the antenna protruding near the tail to the left.

The study focused on young, hatch-year ducks and it’s the first major migration study to focus on young mallards exclusively. The hope is to learn more about where they prefer to go, places they avoid, and their tendency to return to their natal (hatching) areas the next year. In essence, it will teach us what they need so that scientists and managers can maximize their survival and maintain a healthy duck population.

Although economics are not the driving force for this research, it’s no secret that waterfowl are a very important resource in the Dakotas– whether you’re a hunter, a photographer, a nature-lover, or a businessperson that sells the things that duck-aficionados need. A report released earlier this year indicates that hunting alone (of which waterfowl hunting is a major part) generates approximately $2.1 billion for the economy of North Dakota, $576 million of which goes directly to rural areas, which often sorely need it. So, in other words, ducks are an important part of the Dakota economy so there is a lot of interest in knowing everything there is to know about them to ensure healthy populations for generations to come.

I was contracted to provide veterinary services for the project including performing the surgeries and training a veterinarian to augment the implantation efforts in North Dakota. I also prepared all of the transmitters prior to the project, a process involving attachment of surgical mesh and antenna anchors, packaging, and sterilizing. I was just a small cog in the machine though as dozens of people were involved in pulling the project off.

Alex recovers a Swainson’s hawk after treatment. This bird was not part of the duck work but was found injured so we assisted Dakota Zoo by providing treatment and surgery.

A special thanks to Cindy for having me along on this project. Her crew, John McKinney and Matthew McBride, were tireless in their efforts to catch the ducks. I was accompanied by Alex Carrillo, a biologist (and a good friend) who acted as my anesthetist. His help was excellent and hopefully you’ll see more of him in my future trips.

From left to right: Dr. Ford, Jonathan, Matthew, Alex, and Cindy & duck #62 in the front

I’ll share more on the results of this project in the future. If you have any questions, please ask below– I’d love to hear your feedback!

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