Dr. Scott Petrie, Long Point Waterfowl Executive Director
Dr. Chris Guglielmo, Western University
Dr. Michael Schummer, Long Point Waterfowl Scientist
The lower Great Lakes have long been documented as important stopover and wintering sites for waterbirds during various portions of the annual cycle, but wintering ecology of sea ducks at this locale is relatively unknown component of their annual cycle. Dreissenid mussels colonized and dominated the benthos of Lake Ontario in the early 1990s, which corresponded with a 10-fold increase in overwintering sea duck populations, of which, Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) were most numerous. Up to 100,000 long-tailed ducks winter at Lake Ontario and they use offshore locales where they cannot be observed from shore. Thus, monitoring Long-tailed Ducks using satellite telemetry applications is necessary to study habitat selection.
During the last decade, interest in development of offshore industrial wind turbines (IWTs) has increased in the lower Great Lakes. Plans to develop offshore areas of the Great Lakes with IWTs were made without adequate research on impacts to animal movements and migration. IWTs have the potential to affect Long-tailed Ducks because of placement where ducks may forage, roost or fly (i.e. between foraging and roosting locations) during winter. In Denmark, Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) were displaced from marine habitats following development of IWTs. However, few data exist on habitat selection by Long-tailed Ducks and other sea ducks in the lower Great Lakes that are useful in informing placement of IWTs in offshore areas.
During winter2010-2011 and 2011-2012, Philip along with staff at Long Point Waterfowl and the Canadian Wildlife Service captured and banded 229 Long-tailed duck using lift nets and floating mist nets in Hamilton Harbour, the Toronto Waterfront and Prince Edward County. Fifty-five adult Long-tailed Ducks were selected for implant of satellite transmitters based on age criteria and weight thresholds. Additionally aerial surveys are being conducted every third week throughout the winter (mid-December – end of March, 2011 – 2013) from Kingston to the mouth of the Niagara River, to document abundance and distributions of Long-tailed Ducks in nearshore areas of Lake Ontario.
In this study, Philip will use satellite telemetry to determine the spatial and temporal habitat selection by Long-tailed duck at Lake Ontario. Long-tailed ducks use areas with greater food availability at Lake Ontario, but ice and wind dynamics may influence food accessibility and subsequent seasonal habitat selection by Long-tailed ducks. Information gained from this study will enable IWTs to be placed in areas to minimize impacts to migrating and wintering Long-tailed Ducks.
Philip’s research objectives are:
1. Develop predictive models of habitat selection for LTDU at Lake Ontario by investigating the influence of environmental variables such as ambient temperature, wind speed and direction, ice cover, substrate type, water depth, and upwelling frequency on habitat selection.
2. Determine diel use of LTDU in nearshore and offshore areas.
3. Determine abundance and distribution of LTDU in nearshore areas identified through aerial surveys over Lake Ontario.
Long-tailed Ducks: Movement Patterns
Wintering Movement Maps on Lake Ontario -
Winter 2011-2012: birds marked in the western basin of Lake Ontario are shown in purple, birds marked in the eastern basin are marked in yellow.
Spring Migration Route 2012
Canadian Wildlife Service
Long Point Waterfowl
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
S.C. Johnson & Son Ltd
Sea Duck Joint Venture
TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
United States Geological Survey
Wildlife Habitat Canada