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Monticello researcher tracks mallards & mercury

With duck hunting season underway, many are looking forward to having a bird on their upcoming holiday table. A question should be asked is whether or not their mallard has been exposed to mercury.

University of Arkansas - Monticello's Dr. Douglas Osborne is tracking the return rates, harvest rates and annual survival.

"We need to get an understanding on if those shifts are real and what increases of population of goose numbers are doing to the food availability... that may ultimately impact the health of the waterfowl population long term," Osborne. "We have satellite transmitters on some birds looking at migration pathways, looking at their timing of migration as they move through. We are analyzing some data using some modeling techniques to look at what factors on the landscape maybe influence that shift in their distribution. "

Harvest rates are crucial for harvest regulations for ducks. The amount that has been tested has changed throughout the years.

"We banded 1000 birds in the first two years," Osborne said. "In the 80s in Arkansas they were banning 5,000 to 8,000 ducks a year here in Arkansas. Through the 90s and 2000's really there were essentially no banding done in Arkansas."

Through his research, Osborne looked for mercury in the blood of wintering ducks.

If found, that would indicate the duck's exposure to contaminated water as recent as 20 or 30 days prior to finding it.

"We had a little bit of difference between the water sheds here but none of the samples came back that exceeded the advisory level that they put on fish," Osborne said.

Although researchers have found that ducks in Arkansas do not have mercury, Osborne told Channel 7 News the research is still important.

"As we continue to do science more and more questions come up. Of course it may help address one question but then three more questions arise from our science "

For more information on Osborne's findings, click here.

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