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Mallard Duck Research

Fish & Game is dedicating a significant amount of resources and staff time to mallard research. Here you'll be able to find out what we're doing in the field to both improve our knowledge of this valued game bird and ultimately benefit hunters.

You'll find a stack of information here which will be updated as milestones are met and new reports come to hand. If you want to be informed of new posts to this page, don't forget to 'like' Fish & Game on Facebook.

Latest update: September 2016

Insights into duckling survival & female mallard brooding behavior 

Southland Fish & Game Officer Erin Garrick has received top marks for her thesis towards a Masters in Wildlife Management on ‘duckling survival & habitat selection of brood-rearing mallard females.’ 

Erin’s work, forming part of Fish & Game’s major mallard telemetry (tracking) project, provides valuable information for hunters as well as for Fish & Game as managers of the game bird resources.

Her full report is avaiable here but she has summarised her findings below:

Southland has long been recognised for its duck population, and the associated buzz around the district during the first weekend in May!

However, the combination of several poor mallard breeding seasons in a row, and in response to hunters concerns about the struggling North Island population, Southland Fish and Game Council funded a national mallard research project. I was fortunate to have my Master’s research funded as part of this wider project.

The Southland Council had expressed concern about continual dairy conversions and the associated changes in pasture management that might affect duckling survival. Consequently, for my research I focused on female habitat selection and factors that might impact on duckling survival.

In terms of pasture management, I found that duckling survival is comparable between dairy and sheep/deer pastoral grazing systems. This is good news for mallards in Southland, as we’ve seen much of our landscape converted to dairying systems. However, first and foremost, brood-rearing females in Southland are selecting for ‘unmanaged habitat,’ in other words, everything that is not pasture (hedgerows, shelterbelts, rank grass). This may not seem like an unexpected result, but alarmingly, these types of habitat are associated with lower duckling survival.

In our landscape, these habitats are typically thin and linear in configuration, creating ideal travelling corridors for predators. While broods may feel safe and protected tucked up in a hedgerow, predators that rely on their olfactory senses to track prey can easily run along the downwind side of these strips and pick up the scent of literally, a ‘sitting duck.’

Duckling survival is higher, I found, when broods are located further from sources of anthropogenic disturbance (human impact on the environment - such as houses, sheds, roads) and when broods travel shorter distances. I found that the presence of ephemeral water (short-lived bodies of water) during the first ten days of a duckling’s life, had a huge impact on survival. For Southland, cumulative duckling survival to 30 days of age without ephemeral water present was only 11% for broods raised by yearling females, compared to 26% for broods raised by adult females. However, with the presence of ephemeral water, duckling survival dramatically increased to 28% for broods raised by yearling females, and 46% for broods raised by adult females. Initially, ducklings require a high protein food source, which is readily available in ephemeral water, particularly in the form of earthworms that are forced to the surface. This may be why Southland is recognised as a duck factory, and as duck enthusiasts, we shouldn’t be complaining about the weather! 

Applying the lessons learnt

Firstly, managers can improve habitat for brood survival by not installing sub-surface drainage through pastures so as to allow temporary bodies of water to form during wet periods, or through the development of more seasonal wetlands.

Greater benefit would be realized if habitat enhancement was undertaken further from human impact – houses, roads and the like.

Managers may want to consider increasing patch size of nesting cover, thus reducing predator hunting efficiency, further improved by predator dilution when combined with methods of predator control. However, more research needs to be undertaken on the predator guild impacting on mallard females and broods and the associated specific habitat features.

Peaceful co-existence…a mallard mum and ducklings share space in a Southland paddock. Ducklings can be spotted quite easily in those short-grass sheep pastures.



A female studied chose a dairy pasture to build her nest – and surprisingly, survived a period of intensive grazing! Photo Phil McCartney.




Right: Crossing roads without a ‘duck crossing’ is just one of the hazards for mallards in Southland. Road verges are also associated with dense nesting cover (rank grass, hedge rows, etc) that are great habitat for rodents, and additionally, their predators! Photo Phil McCartney.



A female mallard and her brood feeding up on ephemeral water (surface water). A common presence in Southland during the brood rearing period.





Latest update: January 2016

Leading mallard duck researcher Jenn Sheppard updates Fish & Game’s three year telemetry (tracking ) project

The study, spearheaded by the University of Auckland PhD student Jenn and Auckland Waikato Region game bird manager David Klee, has involved tracking ducks fitted with transmitters at two sites – in the Waikato and Southland.

The aim has been to examine their survival rates, breeding habitats, and overall productivity.

 Above: Jenn Sheppard inputting data. 

Jenn Sheppard says the project will soon enter the “nitty gritty” phase where data collected over the last two breeding seasons will be thoroughly analysed and interpreted.

What stage is the project at? 

We are almost at the end of final field season and what this means is that the birds have nearly finished nesting and raising their ducklings, and most are beginning to moult and group up (or flock) again…and take a break until next year.

Any key finding you can point to at this stage – a ‘Eureka’ moment?

There has been, but until we plug everything in and analyse it, we won’t understand what it means so it’s still a bit too early to say. For example, we could say, ‘Oh, we’ve found that nest survival is really high and that’s good,’ but we don’t know for certain how it’s going to work out once all the survival rates are looked at in the same scientific models.

What we did find this year, which I think is really important, is that our results are similar to last year’s, this means that we didn’t have a weird “off year” which could skew or complicate our results, and make it so much harder to interpret the data. It’s very good news that we are finding consistencies in our data collection and results.

That tends to indicate that earlier findings are on track?

Yeah I think so…you always need repetition when conducting studies like this – you never know when you are going to get an off year, or how different climatic factors are going to affect the outcomes. The birds seemed to nest at exactly the same time. The first day a nest was laid by our marked birds in the Waikato was July 15 – both last year and this year.  I think such an early date was unexpected by a lot of people and that most people thought they didn’t nest until late August.

So some key background….how many birds tracked in each place? The numbers?

We’ve tracked 60 females with abdominal implants in each site per year – so those are the ones that we tracked from June onward. Then we found nests of un-marked birds and we trapped them on the nests and equipped them with back-mounted transmitters. The number of birds with this type of transmitter varied, depending on the site and year.  This year in the Waikato we marked 17 – last year we marked 11, and in Southland last year they had 22 and 11 this year.

So, all up we’ve managed to mark 300 females and collect good data for just over 250 of them, which is a great sample size to work with. Most people who do a two year study on ducks probably have a sample size of around 100 to 200. So I think we’re doing really well in terms of the life of the project and resources.

It’s a large number, 300 females, it’s the biggest mallard project ever in New Zealand and the biggest by Fish & Game – no one in New Zealand has researched mallards to this extent, at least no one I’ve come across yet. I wouldn’t say that our results conflict with what earlier researcher Murray Williams (Victoria  University, Wellington) found, but I think there has been changes since he did his work. We are finding new things that no one knew for sure – new emerging results.

Above: tracking..David Klee on Waikato farmland (Photo Jamie Troughton Dscribe).

The only way to fully understand what is happening in a population, in regards to various survival rates and productivity, is to mark birds and track them through breeding. It’s the only sure way to monitor survival rates and determine what habitats are important, and no one has really done that.

What would you highlight in terms of finding out new things?

Some things we’ve found probably would not be news to some people. One thing we have confirmed this year is that females do double-brood. Last year, we had birds that would lose their ducklings and re-nest, which isn’t overly surprising. But this year, females have successfully raised ducklings to fledging and they’re nesting again.

We don’t know if the second lot of ducklings will survive yet, because the nests just hatched in mid-December, but it’s possible that some females might produce two full broods. Some people say that happens all the time but it’s pretty much unheard of in mallards in the northern hemisphere where the birds originate from.

So could the double brooding be a New Zealand-specific behaviour?

It could be a unique trait that mallards have in New Zealand compared to elsewhere. It’s very unusual for a duck to nest again after they‘ve raised the ducklings. Usually if a duck raised ducklings they flock up and moult. It takes an excessive amount of energy to raise two broods, but New Zealand mallards seem to be able to cope with that.

What are the factors that permit that? How is that happening?

I don’t know yet, but I have two ideas which I will look into further during the nitty gritty analysis. It could be because there are really good climatic conditions this year - good rainfall and lots of food. Or, low success in other years causes the birds to keep going as long as possible in favourable years. Maybe most years the nest or brood is unsuccessful and when they have a year where survival rates are higher the birds just don’t quit breeding. I think it’s one of the two extremes – either because (conditions) are really good or really bad!

For a female to put that much more energy into another nest, I would guess she has to be in really good condition. If we could re-trap them on the nest and figure that out it would help answer some of our questions. It’s a lot of investment.

That double brooding trait, the most surprising the most significant?

It’ll be interesting to see how that double-brooding helps the population, but I don’t think it will be the most significant. The other surprise is that it’s not uncommon for a female to just have one or two ducklings survive. At the end of the day, our duckling survival is quite low. On average, birds hatch 11 ducklings but after the first 10 days most of the ducklings are dead, and the female might raise just one or two ducklings to fledge.

The mortality of ducklings is most likely due to predators, but because we are unable to mark and track individual ducklings, we don’t know what predators or other factors are responsible for the high mortality rates. We’ve seen them get eaten by various predators, but a young duckling that is not yet a week old is unable to keep itself warm so at night if it’s too cold for them they could freeze. If mum can’t keep them warm, they don’t have a chance really, but again, we have no way of knowing if that’s happening.

Most lost because of predation or the cold?

I suspect that it’s probably predation, but the only way we would truly know is if we had a study that focused on the predators. I think that if somebody wanted to look at the whole suite of predators and look at what the predator eats (their diets), then we'd know for sure what’s eating ducklings.

Aside from predators, it could be variable weather conditions such as too much or too little rainfall. It could be that they’re just not getting enough food or they’re in poor condition.

It’s sad – it’s true of both sites but duckling survival is probably twice as high in Southland. We see 15 percent in the Waikato and around 30 percent survival in Southland. What that means is that so far this year, we’ve had 450 ducklings hatch and only 15 percent of those survive, which is 67 out of 450.

Very low compared with northern hemisphere?

That’s very low compared with the northern hemisphere. There’s been one study that found similar duckling survival rates but most are much higher, even over 50 percent. The difference between here and the northern hemisphere is that we have higher nest survival rates – I believe their nest survival is lower, especially as our season progresses some birds nest successfully in August or September, but a lot of the nest gets destroyed by predators so they re-nest. But by October or November those nests are surviving so later in the season, more nests hatch.

But overseas, if they don’t hatch in that first month then it just goes downhill from there and just gets worse and worse – but here it gets better. Its opposite for the nest, I think.

This could be that the predators are switching their prey. I think when there are lots of nests on the ground they target the eggs, but once ducklings start hatching and there are broods, I think the predators switch and they go after ducklings. So later in the year more nests have a chance to hatch, at least that’s what the data suggests.

Would you take a stab at the worst predators?

We know that cats and rats come to the nests, we have that on video from nest cameras. Depending on the circumstance, we can sometimes tell what destroyed the nest – you could tell if it was a hawk because the nest will be all torn up. If all eggs are missing, it’s usually a stoat, but half the time you can’t tell because the nest will be a disaster, eggs eaten and egg shells everywhere.

We did do necropsies (bird autopsies) on all the females that died last year. We just took the dead birds and had a scientist help us out and it was mostly cats and ferrets that killed the females. We will do the same this year; we’ll look at the females that have died on the nest, so we are able to tell what kills them. Just over 20 percent of females died on the nest.

We’ll have close to 50 females that have died in the last two years. Sometimes you can’t tell what killed them because the carcass is just too far gone. I’m sure cats are taking their toll on ducks…we just don’t have it documented.

 It’s a difficult to pinpoint any one predator, especially because we have no idea what happens at night and what happens when we aren’t around.  If everyone started targeting hawks, it’s likely the stoat or rat population will increase, which would create issues for nesting birds. If we want to focus on predators, then we need to target all the predators not just one specific one. Otherwise we will see unintentionally, or unexpected changes in the ecosystem, which could be counterproductive for our duck populations.

 Is a predator study the crucial next step to get a handle on mallard populations?

We’ll have a good handle on mallard populations. The information we have now is going to provide fundamental results to look at the population. We’ll understand how the population responds to different survival rates, different weather, different botulism outbreaks, harvest, and so on. What we don’t know is which predators do most of the damage so if we want to focus on predators, we need to do more research to figure out which ones to focus on, or look at a whole suite of predators and target as much as we can or we might have some unexpected responses, as I’ve said. The last thing we want to do is increase the stoat population by killing all the cats and hawks. It’s not going to help our cause! So either we need to figure out what’s causing most of the damage, or just target everything.

What else emerges from the research to date as far as where we need to go from here?

Right now, we almost have all our data collected – we are almost done. The next step is to plug it all in to the population models and figure out what it all means. In a few months we’ll have a better understanding about what’s happening and then we’ll know where to go from there. The best thing we can do right now is just to be patient – I wouldn’t recommend changing anything between now and then, we need more time to look at the data we’ve collected and understand it more.

We know duckling survival is really low, but we don’t know what that means in terms of population growth. If the female and nest survival rates are high enough, and, if harvest rates don’t overly influence survival of females then maybe then the low duckling survival is not that important, because it’s compensated for throughout higher survival rates elsewhere. But maybe duckling survival is very important, but we have no way of knowing what that means until we have time to look at it.

But you’ll be able to come up with some significant recommendations?

Oh yes, well have a much better understanding of the habitats the birds use, when predation rates are highest, when the survival of nests and ducklings is most critical, and what the reproductive effort and success of females is, so we’ll answer a lot of questions. It’s possible we’ll find that predation is highest in September, so we’ll recommend increasing trap efforts in August.

In October when most ducklings are hatching, or most birds are re-nesting, we could ask councils and regional councils to not mow the sides of the roads. It could be something as simple as that – just more awareness of when birds use certain areas and when they are most vulnerable, then just try and do our part to help them survive.

 Likely recommendations at the end of the study will probably be some sort of predator prevention in one way shape or form. It could be more trapping it could be setting it up properly or focusing on different areas. It’s probably going to be a lot landowner advocacy, making people aware that hedgerows, effluent ponds and un-mowed roadsides are important. We’ll know how much nest cover a duck needs, so instead of just spraying the blackberries maybe we can find a native plant that can function the same way, if it’s a certain height or density we can probably figure that out. At the end of the day well have heaps of information that we can use to hopefully help the ducks out.

Anything the public can do to assist your research?

The best thing is if hunters let us know if they find any banded ducks that’s the most useful information for us at this age. Especially if we can get returns from our radio-marked ones. If we know where they went, or how many years they survived for – that would be very valuable information for this and future research. In five years from now, if a hunter shoots one or our birds and reports it, then we will know that this bird had ‘this many nests this year and that many ducklings’ and still survived five more years. Information like that is invaluable.

The battery in a transmitter only last ten months, but all our study ducks have bands. Some ducks might have two bands – a normal band and a coloured band, but others will just have the normal band. It’s crucial we get details of any banded duck – that’s the best information we can get.

How would you sum up then?

We’re almost done collecting the data…we are going to be able to answer some very important fundamental questions about what birds need, what they use and what the population is doing. We’ll have some good recommendations on where to go from here. Whether it is a focus on predators or a focus on habitat, by this time next year we’ll have answers to those questions.

Low duckling survival is surprising but the drive of these ducks to double-brood after raising ducklings…that’s surprising too. 

  • LATEST UPDATE 8/9/2015

Tracking mallards – latest word from the researchers 

Fish & Game’s major mallard research project is continuing – but already producing some valuable insights – for example into survival rates for female ducks and their ducklings.

The telemetry or tracking project has focused on mallards in both the Waikato and Southland regions, both prime mallard hunting areas.

Researchers Jen Sheppard and David Klee explain what the research has turned up so far – and what lies ahead. 

Click here

  • LATEST UPDATE (16/ February 18, 2015)

Duck research milestone reached

Fish & Game’s landmark mallard research project has finished its first season, and while there are another two seasons of research still to be completed, interesting preliminary data is already emerging.

The mallard project is a significant research effort by Fish & Game and follows concerns voiced by hunters throughout the country that mallard populations had fallen from levels seen in previous years.

Because the mallard duck is the mainstay of most New Zealand waterfowl hunting, Fish & Game is now trying to determine what the species requires to sustain a good, stable and huntable population.

The research team is looking at mallards in both the North and South Islands, focussing on Waikato and Southland because of those regions’ reputation as prime mallard hunting areas.

The researchers are trying to understand mallard productivity and habitat use and the initial results are interesting.

Using high-tech transmitters and tracking equipment, the team discovered that mallards began nesting in mid-July and by September, broods had started hatching.

Research technician Julie Unfried tracking ducks fitted with transmitters.

By December, most birds had finished nesting, although a few late broods were being hatched and reared through Christmas and into the New Year.

There was a difference in survival rates between the two regions.

In Waikato, nest survival appears to be around 50 percent, with some birds attempting to nest up to four times.
While nest survival appears higher than expected, duckling survival is in contrast, extremely low. Many Waikato birds hatched their first nest only to lose the entire brood within the first week.

Although most females which lost broods re-nested and raised a few ducklings the second time around, only 14 percent duckling survival was observed in Waikato.

This contrasts sharply with the results obtained in Southland.  There, many birds successfully raised their ducklings on their first nest attempt, and while there was still significant predation on females, nest and duckling survival appears to be much higher.
Preliminary analysis suggests Southland’s nest and duckling survival may be as high as 60 or 70 percent.

From the information obtained during the 2014 breeding season, it would appear predators are to blame for the majority of nest losses. 

One of the reasons for this is that the habitats the birds nest in, such as hedgerows and ditches, create an easy target for mammalian predators. Scientists describe such  sites as being “lineal habitats” because they are in straight lines.  

An unexpectedly high number of females were killed during incubation while on their nests. Initial observations suggest cats, stoats and hawks may have an important impact on female mallard survival during breeding. Pukekoes also took a toll on nests and ducklings.

The mallard research project is now a third of the way through its three year timetable and team members describe the first year as “an enormous success.”

Figures are now being analysed to provide the detailed picture required before conclusions can be drawn, and over the next two breeding years, more data will be collected in an effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of what the mallard population is doing in New Zealand.

Come spring 2015, the researchers and volunteers will be back out in the field gathering the huge volume of information and data necessary if meaningful results are to be obtained.

February 18, 2015

Hopes for better duck hunting season 

Central North Island Fish & Game officers are hopeful of a better game bird season in May, after thousands of mallards have been trapped and banded around the North Island.  

The work is carried out in the Bay of Plenty and East Coast, and the Auckland and Waikato regions. Areas which come under the strongest hunting pressure are normally trapped more intensively.

Eastern Senior Fish & Game officer Matthew Mc Dougall says so far this summer, well over 5000 birds have been banded.

“It appears that this year we’ve had a good breeding season which bodes well for hunters come the opening of the duck season on the first weekend in May.”   

Mr Mc Dougall says juvenile ducks make up a large part of the hunter’s bag and “if there are plenty around hunters tend to do well.”

He says that last year’s banding programme turned up a long-distance flight by a mallard banded in the Hauraki district, which ended up more than 2000 kilometres away north of Noumea, capital of the French territory of New Caledonia. A woman whose husband shot the bird in a local swamp got in touch to say they’d recovered the bird.    

“It wasn’t a one-off, it’s in fact the third time a bird has turned up in New Caledonia,” Mr Mc Dougall says. “Initially, we thought people were having us on.”

Also intriguing is how often some birds have been recaptured as part of the banding programme. One bird first banded in Galatea nine years ago, has now been recaptured on three subsequent occasions. “It shows that being trapped and banded doesn’t put the birds off a free feed.”

The banding information that hunters send in provides some crucial data but of course, it isn’t looked at in isolation. “It’s just one of the tools we are using to help assess what different populations are doing.”

Mr Mc Dougall says banding provides data on age and sex ratios, and survival rates in addition to where birds have dispersed to.  

Fish & Game is again calling on hunters to return band details from birds they shoot, once the season gets underway.


The annual banding now in its 19th year involves capturing the ducks in baited ‘crayfish-type’ traps which let them in, but not out again. Coded bands are attached to their legs before they are released. This provides information to compare with the previous breeding season, which helps in setting duck shooting limits.

Fish & Game uses banding to find out survival rates for juveniles and adults, males and females.

Recovery of a band also means the distance between the banding site and recovery site can be calculated, as can the time elapsed since banding  - giving an indication on how long the bird lived for.

Staff from the Ministry for Primary Industries use the banding sessions as an opportunity to test the birds for diseases such as avian ‘flu.

- Media release from Senior Fish & Game Officer Matthew Mc Dougall, tel 07-3575501 

Pictured: Fish & Game Chairman Lindsay Lyons and Eastern Manager Andy Garrick banding near Te Puke.

  • 28 August, 2014

Waikato duck study New Zealand first

A groundbreaking Fish & Game study is helping researchers shed light on the nesting habits of mallard ducks, and should have spin-offs for other species of waterfowl.

A thin breeze with echoes of snow slides across Te Awamutu's Lake Mangakaware, rustling raupo and rippling the surface of the small rural waterway.

Although frost in surrounding paddocks has only just melted, David Klee is sweating in a short-sleeved bush shirt, squinting into the low sun on a stunning Waikato winter morning.

The Fish & Game officer leans back into his work. He glides a borrowed mud-clad dinghy, until minutes ago full of murky water and parked under a willow, across the lake surface as he rows towards a noisy chattering of swans, geese and duck.

In the stern of the small boat, field technician Julia Unfried navigates using a hand-held aerial and directional radio receiver, until some affronted geese suddenly erupt off the water and fly off in an indignant cacophony.

Pictured: David Klee (Photo Jamie Troughton - Dscribe)

Seconds later, a flight of mallard ducks take off from the middle of the lake. Unfried tracks them intently with the aerial, nodding towards the front pair, a hen and drake.

Duck number 474, the hen, has been identified and sighted. Klee gives a grin, satisfied that her willingness to fly means she hasn't started nesting yet, then pivots the dinghy around and heads back to shore.

In case the radio tracking isn't a dead giveaway, this ain't no wild goose-chase.

Klee and Canadian Jenn Sheppard, a PhD student at Auckland University, are spearheading a major Fish & Game study gathering vital data on New Zealand mallard nesting and breeding habits.

Though mallards are this country's key game bird species, much about their breeding habits and how changes in their environment affect population are still unknown.

Having surgically implanted transmitters into 120 female mallards earlier this year, the scientists have been using radio technology to monitor them during the breeding season.

The study is expected to take between three and four years, with data used to develop population models and fine-tune management of the resident game bird species.

Now they're nearly ready to move into the next phase -- tagging nesting ducks to get a better idea of nest success and brood survival in two research sites, one in Waikato and the other in Southland.

"We know that climate plays a massive role when it comes to changes in population, especially with the amount of good quality, seasonally-flooded wetland areas," Klee explains. "We've had four or five years of drought-like conditions and that's affected North Island populations, while changes in habitat also play a significant role."

He sweeps an arm across undulating, lush-green Waikato cattle country -- pastureland deep in the throes of calving.

"We've got a pretty homogenous landscape these days and in the last 20 years, it's probably had less to do with large wetland drainage and more to do with habitat degradation. Current land prices mean farmers are trying to get as much production out of their land as possible and I understand that completely but it also means we've lost a lot of nesting cover."

Initial studies last year showed that both nest success and brood survival was low, with predators, especially cats and hawks, playing a role and large numbers of ducks forced into "linear habitats" like drain banks.

All of which is a big change for self-confessed "bird nerd" Sheppard, who wrote her Masters' thesis on mallard habitat selection trade-offs while studying the vast Prairie Pothole Region in North America.

Covering parts of three Canadian provinces and five states of the US, the snow-fed Pothole wetlands are five times the size of the North Island and host more than 60 per cent of the continent's breeding ducks.

"In North America, they have more obvious nest predators," Sheppard, who arrived from the University of Saskatchewan on a Fish & Game scholarship in March, explains.

"One of the biggest drivers of nest and duckling failure is mink, raccoon and skunk threat, which you don't have here, but you have different predators and we're not entirely sure how they affect the duck population.

"The ducks here also have a bit more relaxed type of life cycle -- they don't have to migrate and they're not forced to nest the minute the snow's off the ground and have their ducklings able to fly by the time the next snow comes."

As well as Sheppard's intellectual experience, she's also brought with her a range of valuable contacts in the Canadian branch of Ducks Unlimited, a world leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

Husband Simon is a more than capable field technician, while Sheppard is also supervised by Dr Todd Dennis (University of Auckland), Dr Todd Arnold (University of Minnesota) and Dr Courtney Amundson (Alaskan Wildlife Service).

Sheppard's Masters study was only one of more than 100 published papers taken from a massive eight-year study of the Pothole region and Klee hopes, if enough data can be gathered, to stimulate similar interest in New Zealand mallards.

"Providing that we collect the data well and get as much as we possibly can at this stage, we can keep coming back and reanalysing aspects of this study in five or 10 years time," Klee says.

That data collection means tracking ducks using a distinctive Mitsubishi ute fitted with a ground telemetry system and with a revolving aerial on the back and, every month or so, finding any missing birds using light airplanes.

On the ground and despite the pressures of calving, the scientists have discovered local cow-cockies are eager supporters.

"We've been blown away by the support we've had from local farmers and private landowners," Sheppard says.

"They're the most important aspect of the whole research project because without access we couldn't track the birds accurately. We know calving is an incredibly busy time around here but the rural community has been incredibly helpful and generous."

- By Jamie Troughton - Dscribe Media Services

(April 14, 2014)

Top Canadian duck researcher recruited for mallard team

Our PhD student Jenn Sheppard is here, enrolled at Auckland and settling in well. It’s been all action since she arrived as we needed to finalise study designs and order equipment, plus jump through all the hoops regarding animal ethics.

Meetings have been held with supervisors and avian surgeons at Auckland University in order to finalise our approach. Jenn has been able to acquire a lot of equipment from Ducks Unlimited Canada which will save us thousands, the amount of advice and information we are getting through external supervisors and researchers has also been priceless.

Pictured: Jenn Sheppard

On that topic, we are looking at flying one of our external supervisors, Dr. Courtney Amundson, over here for one month at the beginning of the field season to help with surgeries and impart her knowledge on the project. She is going to present on some of her work from the US to Fish & Game staff. Courtney and our other external supervisor, Dr. Todd Arnold, are considered international experts in the field of mallard breeding ecology so it is exciting to have researchers of this calibre visiting NZ. Courtney’s publications can be viewed here.

We are also looking for two volunteers and have advertised both within NZ and overseas. The six month posting will require long winter days in the field so we need someone that isn’t going to quit when the going gets a bit tough. We have budgeted to pay for the volunteer’s accommodation and food. The placing would ideally suit a recent graduate looking for work experience.

It is now a matter of contacting landowners and Fish and Game clubs to finalise study sites and get further assistance, especially with nest searches. If anyone has contacts for good pointer dogs based in the Hamilton or Southland area, please let the staff know. We are looking for hunters that are willing to take their dogs around farms/wetlands and find and mark out nest sites, preferably without flushing the hens. We would need to do some limited training to ensure protocols are followed and teach participant how to candle eggs (a method used to determine stage of incubation).

Other than that, we are constructing a myriad of different traps to catch the ducks both prior to breeding and on the nests. We also need to develop a mobile surgery field centre, get trained and permitted to conduct anaesthesiology, and build truck mounted telemetry systems prior to deployment in June.

Report by Auckland Waikato Fish & Game southern gamebird manager David Klee.


To view the recent movements of monitored birds click on the image below (you will need Google Earth to view).

Last updated: October 7, 2013


Fish & Game investigates ducklings' fate -


Click here to view a short video production detailing part of Fish & Game's Mallard Research.

2. Standardising monitoring techniques

Perhaps the least 'sexy' of the mallard research projects, monitoring trends in mallard populations is nonetheless the foundation from which all other research and management responses are driven.

If we don't know what the population is doing how do we know when to intervene and whether any outcome is achieved.

Currently a handful of Fish & Game regions undertake an array of surveys to monitor fluctuations and longer term trends in mallard numbers within their boundaries.

It is the aim of this research project to establish mallard management areas based on mallard population boundaries rather than Fish & Game boundaries. The physical attributes of the area to be monitored, the precision of the information required, and decisions based on this will determine the technique.


A research outline has been produced providing options for identifying the annual status of mallard populations in Duck Management Units (DMU) across the country. Click here for more information.

3. Defining Mallard habitat characteristics for recriutment


Click here for details.

4. Modelling Harvest Regulation effectiveness


Click here for details.

5. Citizen science for reporting on mallard brood, survival and habitat

Click here for more details about this project.

  • LATEST UPDATE (April 15, 2014)

Operation Duck Pond has had some success over the past few months. We were able to get a webpage up describing the project.

We have also been running a Facebook page (link below) that had a great start with close to 100 (now at 120) 'likes' within the first weeks, after that we have been slowly climbing. We usually get 30-50 people who “saw” each post put on the site. The best was 506 people who saw an article on what Fish & Game is doing with floating nesting platforms.

There has been good media coverage with articles in the Fish & Game magazine, the Flight Magazine, and the Hunting and Fishing catalogue. Fish & Game's Public Awareness team have done a wonderful job assisting me on this part of the project. They also plan to filming a few segments in June both for promotion and also instructional.

We currently have eight ponds (4 Eastern, 1 Hawkes Bay, 1 North Canterbury, 1 Southland, and 1 Wellington). Based on enquiries we're receiiving, it's likely we will have more in the weeks to come.

Report compiled by Northland Fish & Game officer Nathan Burkepile.

'Operation Duck Pond is go! Check out the project's Facebook page here and get involved.

If you want to get involved by sending us some information or feedback, please email us.