Space Duck

BY MARK BEASON

Daily Journal

JACKSON – If you've ever wondered what happens to the ducks in Mississippi the other 305 days of the year you can now find out with a point and a click.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is releasing 30 mallards this spring and you can track the flight on your computer. The ducks are outfitted with a tracking device linked to a satellite and waterfowl lovers can see just where those birds make their summer homes.

The MDWFP is using this information to track where the birds go breed and the staging areas before heading south for the winter. The transmitter keeps up with the movement of the ducks no matter where they go.

“Arkansas and Mississippi are the only states in the Southeast to do this type of work on mallards,” said Larry Castle, chief of wildlife for the MDWFP. “It's been done on the East Coast with pintails and other birds and it's going to be interesting to see the travels of these birds.”

The birds were trapped in various parts of the state and fitted with the device. Upon release, the transmitter uses satellite to send back information on just where each duck is located. This feedback is vital information and an opportunity to learning something new about the ducks.

“You get to see things like what species are attracted to certain habitat,” Castle said. “You'll also see what types of habitat the come to when they do come back.”

Helping hunters

Finding out the information can have a direct impact on Mississippi hunters. It can help determine where to spend duck stamp dollars and have the most impact on ducks headed to Mississippi.

The ducks didn't just volunteer to wear the harness transmitter. Ducks were trapped by the MDWFP at state management areas and wildlife refuges. They were caught at Noxubee, Yazoo and Morgan Brake Wildlife Refuges along with Mahannah Wildlife Management Area.

Should a hunter come across one of the ducks in a field, it's equipped with a mortality sensor. Even if the duck is killed by a predator the $3,000 harness can be recovered.

Mississippi is hoping to have the same success Arkansas is enjoying with its program. Arkansas started the program three years ago and has 50 released birds. The response from duck hunters tracking the birds has been positive.

“The site has just received thousands of hits,” said Doyle Shook, chief of wildlife for the Arkansas Fish and Wildlife Commission. “This is a long-term project for us and we're pleased how it's gone so far.”

If a hunters harvests one of the released ducks, the MDWFP is asked to be contacted so the transmitter can be refurbished and used again. A replica will be provide if the hunters chooses to have the ducks mounted.

“We think hunters are going to enjoy being able to track the ducks,” Castle said. “It's also another positive way to get more people involved in the waterfowl program.”

To track the Mississippi ducks go the MDWFP website at www.mdwfp.com