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Ducks staying farther north in winter, study finds

Ducks staying farther north in winter, study finds

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Quackers

If you think this past winter was pretty mild overall, you are not alone. Ducks are not traveling as far south as they used to thanks to warmer winters.

Over the past 50 years, duck populations have shifted farther north due to temperature changes, according to a study of 16 duck species conducted by the National Audubon Society and Clemson University’s James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center.

“The weather has stopped becoming severe enough in the winter to prompt the birds to fly south,” said Tim Meehan, quantitative ecologist at the National Audubon Society and the lead author of the publication. “They’re staying farther north, and they’re telling us that something fundamental has changed in their environment.”

Staying farther north means a greater demand for food for birds adopting new winter homes. It also means some areas farther south where ducks used to visit could see fewer duck hunters and bird watchers, activities that generate billions of dollars annually nationwide.

Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running community science bird project worldwide, played a role in identifying the change in duck habits.

“It’s a testament to the power that anyone can make a real difference in scientific observation,” said Brooke Bateman, director of climate science at the National Audubon Society. “People may not have known what climate change was in 1969 when they went out on Christmas Day to record the birds they saw, but their reports are helping us unravel one of the most pressing global issues of the 21st century.”

The study can be found at: https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.22023.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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