Hunters worldwide develop great interest in their quarry. Australian waterfowl hunters are no different, keenly developing an understanding of birds and favoured wetland habitats, and passionately sharing their knowledge of our waterfowl. But what do we really know about Australia’s incredible waterfowl?
There are numerous questions to be answered if we are to build true scientific knowledge, around the birds’ range of travel, growth rates, hybridisation, their role as possible disease vectors, and impact on Australia’s food security.
2015 is the seventh year of waterfowl research by Field & Game Australia, under the supervision of leading wildlife biologist Associate Professor Graham Hall, of the University of New England.
Hunters are a valuable resource which builds scientific knowledge of Australian waterfowl. The research is conducted through a partnership between hunters and Professor Hall, collecting detailed information about species, sex and age of the birds being harvested during the annual hunting season, which contributes to a better understanding of Australian waterfowl biology.
Learning from wildlife experts like Professor Hall, we know that partnering with hunters in research programs typically starts off with distrust and suspicion. Over time, that has been replaced with curiosity and enquiry, and now enjoys active participation.
Field & Game Australia’s research is designed to maximise scientific outcomes while encouraging participation by hunters. Professor Hall designed the sampling regime around the parts of waterfowl with little food value for hunters: heads and wings. The sample size has now reached over 3,600 and a database has been established, identifying trends for further research.
These trends include the hybridisation of our native Pacific Black Duck with the Mallard, introduced from the Northern Hemisphere. Another question for game management is to understand the range of travel, as agencies in Australia continue to rely on incomplete data on the range and distribution of waterfowl to plan hunting seasons.
At the opening of the 2015 Victorian waterfowl hunting season, Field & Game Australia set up a mobile research facility in north-western Victoria. Hunters provided a fantastic volume of samples for our research program, allowing Field & Game Australia to obtain a wider range of information about Australian ducks, building on the previous years’ data.
Field & Game Australia have also assisted Westmead Hospital with their Ross River Fever research, as ducks may be carriers of the virus.
Another opportunity for hunters to contribute is with Deakin University’s Avian Influenza research. Ducks can play a pivotal role in the spread of this disease, and it can pose a serious risk to food production for egg and poultry producers.
Other exciting research into Australian waterfowl is in NSW through the Department of Primary Industries, initiating projects to assess waterfowl numbers and distribution.
At face value, hunters and research appear to be strange companions. However, history shows that hunters worldwide are keen conservationists and make valuable contributions to research.
Wetland Habitat Research
Field & Game Australia also supports research into wetland habitat, having financed four Honours students and a Ph.D. research student from Deakin University to undertake studies at the Kanyapella Basin, contributing to an adaptive management strategy and implementation plan for the basin.
We also work with catchment management authorities, wetland scientists and marine biologists, measuring things such as water quality, soil acidity and salinity, biodiversity, and tracking rehabilitation of the wetlands that our members maintain and restore.
The Heart Morass has had extensive surveys conducted on flora and fauna at the wetland. Large plantings of wetland flora have been undertaken during the restoration of the Heart Morass, with marine biologists surveying the response and regrowth over several years. Among the returning native wildlife is the vulnerable Green and Golden Bell Frog, Litoria aurea, along with several wonderful native aquatic plants.
Waterfowl Breeding Research
Several Field & Game Australia branches conduct nest box research programs, installing and monitoring nest boxes in areas where the number of natural nesting sites have been reduced.
One nest box research program over a 10-year period at Lake Borrie (near Werribee) had 1,329 nest boxes erected, with almost all being occupied at some time. A total of 1,065 ducklings, predominantly Chestnut Teal, hatched out of 1,213 clutches in this period.
The Nest Box Research Programs undertaken by Field & Game branches across Australia are an important way to study the breeding patterns of the birds that use them. With the destruction of large areas of their natural habitat for nesting the, boxes offer a safe place to nest and hatch their young.