I’VE ALWAYS HAD A SOFT SPOT in my heart for the mottled duck. But before I ever heard the name “mottled duck,” hunters talked about “black mallards.”
The mottled duck is a native of the Gulf Coast, and it has always symbolized the brackish-intermediate wetland I love so much. As I grew up in Southeast Texas, they were a common sight. Then sometime in my twenties they started to dwindle.
Mottled ducks can be difficult to distinguish from hen mallards and other species, so there are special harvest rules for these ducks and their hybrids.
The state and federal officials call them “dusky ducks” because of their similar appearance but most of these provisions are to protect the mottled duck.
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials, “Duck hunters in Texas will have to keep an eye peeled for dusky ducks and fingers off the trigger during the first five days of the season again this year, as concern about the mottled duck populations have forced a delay in the harvest. A dusky duck is defined as a mottled duck, Mexican-like duck, black duck and their hybrids.”
Dusky duck: Nov. 15 – 25, 2018 & Dec. 1, 2018 – Jan. 27, 2019
Dusky duck: Nov. 8 – 25, 2018 & Dec. 8, 2018 – Jan. 27, 2019
Dusky duck: Nov. 5, 2018 – Jan. 27, 2019
The waterfowl conservation community has spent much time studying mottled ducks over the last 10 to 15 years. While I looked over various studies, one particular tidbit caught my attention.
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began outfitting mottled ducks with transmitters to track their movements in the mid 2000s. According to refuge officials, there have been some surprising results.
“The results indicate that mottled ducks, which normally avoid open water, have begun spending extended time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suspect habitat loss and saltwater intrusion, both a result of coastal development, may be forcing the ducks out of their wetland habitats. Coastal research in other regions shows similar trends, indicating the problem may be more than just local.”
The idea of a puddle duck such as the mottled duck in the open waters of the Gulf seems strange indeed. However, there is still much to learn about this species. This study goes to show why it is important to learn about wildlife habitat and movements.
Most ducks migrate through Texas, but the Mottled Duck stays here all of its life. That makes it a good indicator species for the health of wetlands. Follow a graduate student as he follows the movements of these ducks utilizing banding and radio transmitters.
—by TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPT.
—story by CHESTER MOORE