Head & Wing data only part of the equa­tion

Field and Game - - NEWS -

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.”

Zool­ogy stu­dent Ali­son Cash tak­ing head and wing mea­sure­ments at Kerang

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