Head & Wing data only part of the equation

Zoology studen at UNE Alison Cash has been helping with head and wing research for three seasons.

Nine years of collecting head and wing samples as part of a Field & Game Australia research project has brought Associate Professor Graham Hall to two conclusions: we need a better understanding of people as well as ducks.

FGA’s head and wing sampling is important because so little is being done in the scientific community to better understand wild ducks, their populations and the seasonal harvest.

Wildlife biologist Associate Professor Graham Hall from the Zoology Division of the School of Environmental and Rural Science at the University of New England leads the research project.

“I think we’ve still got a long way to go with two things: firstly understanding birds, and secondly, understanding people, probably in reverse order,” he said while processing samples gathered by hunters in Victoria during opening weekend.

Assoc. Prof. Hall is based around Kerang, where anti-duck hunting protesters congregated to disrupt hunting and ‘rescue’ waterfowl.

“Why do they need to keep up their anti-duck hunting antics when really it is difficult to understand what their point is: are they concerned about the killing, are they concerned about wounding or wetland disturbance?” he asks.

“They seem to flip flop wherever they go: one year it is about cruelty, the next it is about dry conditions and the potential to shoot too many birds, but there is no real data and that is where we need to get back to the birds and knowing a hell of a lot more about behaviour. Where do the birds come from that are taken in Victoria: are they local birds, do they come from inland Australia or cross from the Riverina?

“That is what the nine years of data from the head and wing samples shows me: we need to know a lot more in the duck hunting space from a people and a bird point of view.”

Head and wing sampling does provide hard evidence of the species, age and condition of harvested birds.

“If you added up the number of Grey teal taken over the nine years of sampling you have to conclude that hunting has had no impact at all because the number of teal taken has flatlined,” he said.

“One school of thought says that hunters take the surplus of birds that are going to die anyway; they die from botulism or fall prey to predators, so hunting is not adding to mortality, it is just compensating.

“The other school of thought is that it is additive, that a proportion of the population is going to die but you put hunting on top of that. There is really no evidence either way though, that hunting is decimating populations and certainly in the case of blue-wing shovelers, I would say it is having minimal effect, if any at all.”

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