Ring-necked Duck
Tracking Research

Early September 

In addition to getting excited about dove and teal seasons, we are excited about the fall migration of ring-necked ducks that should start soon. Fall is when we will recover breeding and northern migration data from our radio-marked ringers. The transmitters we use collect location data at all times, but they can only transmit the location data when they are near a cell phone tower. The northern breeding sites of ringers are conspicuously lacking cell towers. Accordingly, we used the advanced electronics in our transmitters to establish a “geofence,” which is simply an electronic marker fence to tell each transmitter not to try contacting a cell tower. So as soon as a bird got north of the green geofence line on the map below, its transmitter saved battery power by ceasing its search for cell towers. The transmitter still collected and stored location data. When the ringers migrate back south of the geofence, then they should contact a tower and dump all the data from this summer.

During the spring and summer, the transmitters should have recorded data on four major activities: migration, nesting, brood rearing, and molt. For many ducks, we know of major molting sites where sometimes hundreds of thousands of birds (especially males) molt their flight feathers. For ringers we do not know of such locations, so that is another reason to be excited to see the data from this summer.

The map below shows prior years’ breeding locations and this spring’s migration tracks prior to the transmitters temporarily going offline. Most of those tracks suggest what we have seen in the prior years — that southern Atlantic Flyway ringers are primarily western breeding birds. That is important, because the western population has been on a steady increase, while eastern breeding ringers are stable at best and fluctuate more than western birds (see the population graph below).

Thanks to your partnership and good science, we’ve made some landmark discoveries over the past couple years. However, plenty work remains to complete one more year of tracking (albeit farther north up the East Coast), and most importantly, to see this new discovery through to appropriate application in the harvest management and planning process.

The harvest model driving Atlantic Flyway regulations is currently based solely on eastern ringnecks (plus wood ducks, green-winged teal and common goldeneyes), which our data show to be incomplete. Adding the western ringneck data to the model can only help maintain appropriately liberal hunting regulations — longer seasons and higher limits for the Atlantic Flyway. We need one more year of data from ringers that winter in regions of the Atlantic Flyway outside the Red Hills Region of Florida and Georgia. Then we will formally present the data to the Atlantic Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Your partnership and Delta’s future advocacy for appropriate changes to the Atlantic Flyway harvest model will certainly benefit eastern waterfowlers by maintaining appropriately liberal hunting regulations.

Why is Delta Waterfowl studying ringnecks? We simply don’t know much about them.

Delta’s ring-necked duck project is groundbreaking for several reasons. First, ringnecks have been studied far less than any other duck in the top 10 most-harvested species. Second, ringnecks are doing well — both expanding in numbers and in their geographic range. This may be one of the first times that waterfowl researchers are studying a duck on the upswing. We usually focus our research on species in decline, which means we are constantly in crisis management. Third, this is the first time any research team has implanted transmitters in ringnecks to track their movements. The lack of extensive banding data for ringnecks means we know little about migration routes or breeding destinations for this species, although they are an important duck for hunters. Ringnecks are the only diving duck species in the Top 10 of U.S. hunter harvest, and they rank third in the Atlantic Flyway.