Department of Environmental Conservation

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Migratory Game Bird Research

Research Projects:

Atlantic Brant Migration Ecology and Breeding Propensity

Atlantic brant are a small goose species that breeds in northern Canada and spend winter in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. About 90% of the entire population winters along the coast of New Jersey and New York! During winter of 2018, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) kicked-off a 5-year collaborative Atlantic brant migration and breeding ecology study with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

During the next two years, crews will be marking brant with GPS transmitters and tiny geolocators. The geolocators are clear, plastic electronics about the size of a "fat nickel" and are attached to a red and white plastic leg band with a plastic cable lock tie.

This study is using GPS backpack and tarsal (plastic leg band) geolocators during 2018-19 on both the wintering grounds in New Jersey/New York and breeding grounds in Nunavut, Canada. Marked birds will provide insight into the following Atlantic brant questions:

  • During winter, are brant distributed in the same areas as the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey? If so, the survey is representative of the wintering population; if not, adjustments to the geographic coverage of the MWS need to be made.
  • How faithful are brant to wintering areas within and among years?
  • What is the breeding propensity (probability an adult will breed) of Atlantic brant?
  • What are the key staging areas used during spring and fall migration and is there annual variation in these stopover sites?
  • How faithful are brant to breeding areas among years?
  • Do brant molting at the locations currently marked during the summer period use the same wintering and/or migration areas?
  • Do they have the same migration timing?
A Brant with a tarsal band with geolocator labeled A46 being held.
Brant tarsal band with a geolocator.
A Brant with a backpack transmitterd being held by a wildlife rehabilitator
Brant with backpack transmitter.
A field with birds
An example of a rocket-net capture setup.

What Should I do if I Encounter a Marked Atlantic Brant and How Can I Help?

  • Bird with tarsal band or backpack transmitter shot or found dead: Please contact Josh Stiller at 518-402-8861 or In order to obtain any previous location data from a geolocator or backpack transmitter, we need to get the device in hand. The information obtained from these marking units is vital to the success of the study. Further, if not damaged, the devices can be reused on new birds. Hunters who want to retain one of the marking devices as a "keepsake" will be provided with a "dummy" unit which will be a casing of the real device.
  • Sighting of live bird with tarsal band (color plastic band with 1 to 3 letters or numbers): If you see a red leg bands in the field, please report the observation to the Bird Banding Laboratory (leaves DEC's website) at the US Geological Survey's website. Under the "what" tab, select "Color marker only (neck collar, wing tag, colored leg band, etc.)"
  • Bird with leg band only, shot or found dead: Report to Bird Banding Lab (leaves DEC's website) at the US Geological Survey's website.

American Woodcock Migration Ecology in the Eastern Management Unit

Map of winter range of the american woodcock, as well as the breeding range and the SGL survey coverage

The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is a migratory forest bird that has experienced population declines of 0.8 percent per year for the past 50 years. Relatively little is known about woodcock migration compared to other life phases, but recent advances in satellite and GPS tracking technology have facilitated the ability to track individuals during migration at a level not previously possible.

During Fall of 2018, DEC began a multi-year study with several state wildlife agencies in the Eastern Management Unit, the University of Maine, SUNY Cobleskill, and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Over the next 3 years, more than 200 American woodcock will be marked with small GPS transmitters that are capable of sending one location per day with an accuracy of within 20m of the bird's true location! The overall goal of the project is to describe the migratory ecology of American woodcock in the Eastern Management Region.

Below is the track of a woodcock marked in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine that stopped for several days in New York as it migrated through to its southern wintering area. Understanding the patterns, timing, and habitat use during migration is very important to help managers decide on the best habitat management options to promote this valued gamebird.

For more information on the multi-agency research project and near real-time location information for marked birds, (leaves DEC's website) please visit the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative.

Map showing the migration route of an female american woodcock
Migration Route of an after hatch year female American woodcock(Scolopax minor; 172455), initially marked at Moosehorn
National Wildlife Refuge, Calais, ME and last located in southeastern North Carolina, January 2018. Inset maps show
pre-migration (A) a stopover location (B) and post-migration residency (C).

American Black Duck and Mallard Breeding Pair Abundance, Productivity and Occupancy in the Adirondack Park

A black duck in a pond swimming being observed through a spotting scope
American black duck being observed from afar through a
spotting scope.

The American black duck population decreased approximately 50% between the 1950s and 1990s and has since stabilized; however, they remain 22% below the population goal of 640,000 breeding pairs. There are many potential causes for the decline including habitat loss and degradation, competitive exclusion by mallards, and overharvest. For this project, DEC has partnered with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry to determine the relative contributions of lakes, ponds, and beaver-modified wetlands in the Adirondack Park to black duck and mallard populations and to explore the utility of unmanned aerial survey services for surveying waterfowl in remote wetlands.

a panarama of a small pond