Winter waterfowl: Biologists monitor mallards that don’t migrate
Every winter the Alaska Department of Fish and Game gets calls from people concerned about ducks that haven’t flown south for the winter. Waterfowl biologist Mike Petrula said there are about 1,500 mallards that make Anchorage their year-round home and they seem to be thriving.
“Mallards are a very tough duck. They’re a big-bodied bird. They can handle the cold,” he said.
Part of his job is to track the birds and monitor their activity. More than 1,000 ducks are tagged with numbered leg bands. Each week Petrula heads out to different parks to see which birds are where.
“We want to come up with a survival rate and compare that to wild populations,” he explained, while counting birds in midtown.
Petrula said it’s a common belief the ducks stay because people feed them, an activity that’s been heavily discouraged at Cuddy Park.
“They’ve been putting fences up and keeping the interaction between the birds and the people to a minimum and putting up signs. It seems to help but the birds are still here.”
Their count takes them to 14 lakes and streams around town.
“We’re at Northwood Park and I could guess there’s 300 birds, which is a lot for this place,” Petrula said.
In addition to recording the numbers biologists also want to see where exactly the birds go. For the first time they’ve put radio collars on 10 mallards.
“We’re trying to figure out their movements in the winter, and see if they go into the inlet to feed, and how they distribute themselves in the city and if they go south.”
They’ll continue to monitor the activity until breakup when more migratory birds will likely be heading north.
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