Unmuddling Mottled Ducks

A Mottled Duck photographed in central Florida
with green laser dots to measure the white wing bars.
Photo provided by Ron Bielefeld.

Casey Weissburg and Alice Morris are on the hunt to photograph Florida Mottled Ducks shooting with cameras and lasers for science. Using Archbold as a comfortable base camp, Weissburg and Morris are surveying the central Florida population of Florida Mottled Ducks for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to better understand the degree of hybridization with Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). The Florida Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula fulvigula) is nonmigratory occurring only in central to south Florida. Even with major loss of the mottled duck’s freshwater wetland habitat (almost 50%) in Florida due to urban/rural development and agriculture, the greatest threat, according to Ron Bielefeld (FWC lead biologist for the mottled duck), is hybridization with feral Mallard ducks. Bielefeld writes, 'Historically, mallards occurred in Florida only as migrants. However, released mallards from domestic stock now breed throughout Florida. These mallards are interbreeding with mottled ducks and observations of mottled duck – mallard hybrids are widespread and common (FWC 2011).’ A primary objective for Morris and Weissburg’s surveys in the remaining wetlands of central Florida is capturing photographic samples of individuals to assess the degree of hybridization. Weissburg shared, 'The green laser dots projected onto the duck allow us to measure the width of any white wingbars on the speculum, a trait which is linked to Mallard genes. Results from this research will inform future management for both Florida Mottled and Mallard ducks’.