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Logo: The Black Duck--A Species of International ConcernLogo: Black Duck Joint Venture, North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Black Duck Joint Venture Strategic Plan

(Taken from "Final Draft-Strategic Plan, April 1993, Black Duck Joint Venture", U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Canadian Wildlife Service)


The Black Duck Joint Venture (BDJV) is an international project designed to gather information vital to ensuring sustained populations of black ducks and other waterfowl that share their breeding range. This Strategic Plan provides a general introduction to the need for the BDJV, and describes a strategy for implementation of breeding ground surveys, pre-season banding and research programs. Each of the program elements outlined in this document contains a fundamental justification, central objectives, and broadly describes the schedule and coordination required to accomplish these tasks. Further, this Plan describes delivery mechanisms, communication networks, and incorporates provisions for evaluation. More detail on the technical design and procedures to be followed, informational networks, personnel, accomplishments and future plans is provided in supporting documents, including an Operational Plan, Communications Plan, Evaluation Plan, Contact List, Annual Progress Report, and an Annual Work Plan.

Table of Contents


Program Strategy

Organizational Structure

Program Components

Survey Program
Implementation Schedule
Responsiblities and Coordination
Banding Program
Implementation Schedule
Responsiblities and Coordination
Research Program
Implementation Schedule/Responsiblities

Program Delivery

Evaluation Program



The American black duck (Anas rubripes) of eastern North America (Fig. 1) has great social, economic and cultural value to the people of Canada and the United States. Counts of the wintering population first began in the late 1950s, and today the total population has declined -- in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways -- by more than half of the original numbers. During this decline, black ducks were quickly replaced by mallards as the dominant species in some parts of the traditional breeding range. However, over the past 10 years, trends in both the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey and the Spring Breeding Surveys suggest a stabilized or slightly increasing continental population.

Many factors have been implicated in the black duck's decline, including over-harvest, a drop in production of young, hybridization and competition with the mallard, changes in breeding and wintering habitats, and environmental contaminants. However, many of these factors have not been adequately studied, which makes it difficult to prescribe corrective management action. Also, it is important to distinguish regional populations of black ducks, since some populations appear to be increasing while others continue to decline. Thus, a better base of information is needed to understand factors influencing black duck population dynamics across their current and traditional ranges and to direct management decisions.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) provides a framework for the conservation and cooperative management of waterfowl between Canada, the United States and Mexico by establishing population and habitat goals. One NAWMP goal is to recover numbers of black ducks to a midwinter inventory index of 385,000 in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways by the year 2000. To reach this goal, the Black Duck Joint Venture (BDJV) was established to implement a cooperative program of population monitoring and research to provide information required to manage the species. In addition, key areas were also designated under NAWMP as habitat joint ventures, including the Atlantic Coast, Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Basin, and Eastern Canada, to protect and enhance critical breeding, migration and wintering areas for black ducks and other wildlife species.


This strategy was designed around the critical need to: 1) develop reliable population indices for black ducks to monitor trends and densities, 2) determine distribution and derivation of the harvest of black ducks and changes in harvest rates, and 3) carry out research on population dynamics, habitat management techniques and environmental factors influencing the decline of black ducks. Consequently, the primary purposes of the BDJV are to implement reliable breeding population surveys, improve the format for conducting banding activities and help direct research. To help monitor progress an annual review of accomplishments will be produced by the BDJV.


An 11-member Management Board, with representation from Canadian and U.S. wildlife agencies, is responsible for overall program coordination, and for developing funding and delivery mechanisms. The Management Board is advised by a Technical Committee, consisting of Canadian and U.S. waterfowl biologists. The Technical Committee is responsible for project implementation, progress evaluation, and development of annual work plans. The Management Board reports to the North American Waterfowl Plan Committee.


Survey Program

Background: Black ducks are distributed in low densities in boreal habitats covering vast areas. Until recently, population data on breeding black ducks and other waterfowl were unavailable for eastern North America. The only information on their status was derived from the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey conducted in January each year in the United States. In 1984, the Canadian Wildlife Service initiated systematic surveys of breeding black ducks in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic Provinces using helicopters. These surveys generated indices for estimating breeding population trends and provided valuable experience in the operation of aerial surveys in remote boreal habitats. Although the reliability of conventional fixed-wing survey techniques in these habitats remains untested, in less forested areas of southern Ontario, Quebec and a portion of New York, fixed-wing aerial techniques have proven to be effective for estimating population densities of waterfowl.

Justification: Knowledge of breeding population estimates and/or trends of black ducks and other waterfowl in eastern North America is needed to assess and improve regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention, to guide habitat management and restoration, and to sustain populations that can support recreational use. The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey lacks the precision necessary to monitor population changes over the short-term and cannot be used to differentiate regional changes in breeding populations. Information concerning relative breeding densities can be used to adjust banding data to help determine harvest derivations, and so support other components of the BDJV.

Objective: The objective of the survey program is to provide statistically reliable indices of population trends and relative densities of black ducks and other waterfowl species throughout the primary breeding range of black ducks.

Implementation Schedule: A pilot year of coordinated breeding surveys was begun in April and continued though May 1990. Following modifications and adjustments the 1991 breeding waterfowl survey marked the first year of comparable results. Sampling intensity and coverage may change during the first 5-year period, or experimental phase, as future testing and funding dictates. A detailed evaluation wilt follow the initial 5-year experimental period, 1990-94. If these analyses indicate that data from the surveys are reliable population estimates, the surveys will be conducted on a continuing basis beginning in 1995.

Responsibilities and Coordination: Survey operations in Canada will be coordinated by the Migratory Bird Conservation Division of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), in Ottawa, with assistance provided through the CWS regional offices in each of the major survey areas. In the United States, the Office of Migratory Bird Management, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in Washington, D.C., will provide coordination for surveys, along with assistance from State coordinators.

National coordinators in each country will be responsible for data analysis and preparation of final reports. Helicopter survey results for Canada and the United States will be compiled by the Canadian national coordinator, and the fixed-wing survey results will be summarized by the U.S. national coordinator. Survey results will be summarized and made available for distribution before July 15th of each year.

Specific information on the survey design is contained in the Operational Plan.

Banding Program

Background: The first continental banding plan for migratory birds was issued jointly by CWS and FWS in 1959 and it included banding needs for black ducks. This cooperative plan served as the principle document that identified specific objectives and assigned banding coals by regions. However, the lack of success in obtaining representative black duck bandings severely limited the utility of these banding data. Since 1963, the Eastern Canada Cooperative Banding Program (ECCBP) has coordinated support from the Atlantic Flyway States and Provinces, CWS and FWS, and has formed the basis for the BDJV banding program.

In 1989, banding needs for black ducks were reviewed and listed in The North American Duck Banding Program - A Revised Approach (May 1989). However, an integrated and comprehensive approach to pre-season banding of black ducks and mallards, on a representative basis, in eastern Canada and northeast U.S. is still needed. The recurring problems of logistics and expense associated with banding in remote areas will not be resolved easily.

Justification: Pre-season bandings of black ducks and mallards in eastern North America are not representative of breeding populations throughout their range. This lack of basic knowledge complicates attempts to estimate regional mortality rates (separating the hunting component of mortality from other sources) and harvest rates, identify the source of the birds harvested in each province/state, and link regional trends in breeding populations with mortality sources elsewhere.

Objectives: The objectives of the pre-season banding program are:

  1. To determine the distribution and derivation of the harvest of black ducks and mallards from major reference areas within their breeding range; and
  2. To determine harvest and survival rates of black ducks and mallards, and monitor changes in these parameters, from major reference areas in their breeding range.

Implementation Schedule: Banding activities necessary to attain the overall objectives of this program will be phased-in as funding for the BDJV comes available. In 1990, funds from the Eastern Canadian Cooperative Banding Program (ECCBP) administered by the Atlantic Flyway Council and funds from the BDJV were available for the banding program. The ECCBP was revised in the Atlantic Flyway during 1990 and will extend through the BDJV experimental period, which ends in 1994. States in the Mississippi Flyway began assisting the BDJV banding program in 1990 and are participating in a banding program for Ontario.

The Technical Committee will review past banding accomplishments and advise the Management Board of priority needs. Funds available for banding will be allocated each year among Provinces and States by the BDJV Management Board. Initially, the goal will be to expand the banding activities throughout those regions in which breeding surveys are conducted. Also, emphasis will be placed on those areas currently lacking banding information but which contain adequate numbers of black ducks and mallards. Information from the breeding ground surveys will be used to direct banding activities representatively on a population basis.

New banding stations will be established in western Ontario (the cooperative waterfowl breeding survey area labelled stratum 50). As funding improves during 1990-94, new banding stations will be

added in selected regions of Northern Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. Following the 199-94 period, banding data will be analyzed to re-assess possible changes in reference areas and to revise banding sample goals.

Specific information on the design of the banding program is contained in the Operational Plan.

Responsibilities and Coordination: A network of banding coordinators will be identified in each of the Provinces and States. They will be responsible for organizing and implementing the field work and data submission, review of banding performance, and providing recommendations to the Technical Committee on future needs. The BDJV Technical Committee Co-chairs will serve as overall banding coordinators and will work with the banding committees of the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils and the Provincial and State coordinators to implement the objectives of the BDJV banding program.

Research Program

Background: Researchers have had considerable interest in the problem of declining black duck populations, but little scientific evidence has emerged over the years to show why these declines have taken place. There is no clear consensus among researchers as to the principal cause of the problem and, in fact, black duck population dynamics are not likely tied to any single factor, which further complicates the task of prescribing corrective action. Some argue the need for a large-scale experimental study to isolate the key components and assess population response.

At a Black Duck Symposium held in February 1990, in Saint John, New Brunswick, a series of workshop sessions were held on topics thought to influence the population status of black ducks. These sessions provided an open forum for discussion among researchers and managers to discuss issues pertaining to mallard/black duck interactions, mortality, production, and breeding and wintering habitats. Key elements were identified and in some cases, ranked within each topic. These research needs are incorporated here to describe the principal objectives of the BDJV research program.

Justification: Trends in population size, productivity, survival and harvest rates cannot be explained, or managed, without adequate understanding of the relationships among population parameters and ecological factors. The research program will address key questions about the biology of the black duck and its ecological relationships, and help to guide the habitat JVs.

Objectives: The following is a list of five high-priority research objectives designed to direct research in critical areas where our knowledge of black duck populations and ecology is currently lacking:

  1. Determine factors affecting recruitment rates of black ducks across their breeding range, with a focus on those ecological factors limiting black duck productivity such as predation, nutrient availability and habitat characteristics;
  2. Determine critical factors in the selection and use of habitats by breeding black ducks, with an emphasis on identifying those variables controlling breeding density and reproductive success for use in future habitat management strategies;
  3. Determine methods for effectively managing important staging and wintering habitats for black ducks, with an emphasis on habitat management techniques to enhance habitat use and improve black duck survival though physiological conditioning;
  4. Determine patterns or mortality for population segments of black ducks, including the effects of hunting, predation, disease and other mortality factors on population size, with a focus on identifying factors limiting survival that can be addressed through hunting regulations or habitat management; and
  5. Determine the extent and degree of black duck/mallard interactions across the range of breeding, staging and wintering habitats, with a focus on the effects of mallard hybridization and competition on black duck population parameters, physiological condition and habitat use.

Implementation Schedule/Responsibilities: The Black Duck Joint Venture Management Board has established a schedule and procedures to receive and review written research proposals seeking funding or endorsement by the BDJV. The schedule is outlined in detail in the Operational Plan. In brief, the Management Board will issue a letter inviting proposals to address a list of immediate research needs. The Technical Committee is responsible for preparing that list, for providing a detailed review of each proposal, and making recommendations for funding based on this review. The Management Board will make the final decision on funding allotments at their March meeting, based on i) BDJV priorities, ii) scientific merit, iii) range of applicability of results, iv) partnerships, and v) matching funds.


General reporting of activities and accomplishments from the BDJV will be distributed via various delivery mechanisms, such as newsletters, progress reports and technical reports. Communication networks will be established and coordinated by the Management Board. Information will be made available to users (federal, provincial, and state wildlife and natural resource agencies, flyway councils and the general public) as soon as results have been summarized, reviewed and considered reliable for general use.

Population databases emerging from the breeding population survey program will be considered experimental during the development period, 1990-94. Following a thorough assessment of their reliability, these surveys will be conducted annually on a continuing basis. At that time, these population data will be integrated into existing databases from other waterfowl breeding areas of North America and incorporated into the yearly Waterfowl Status reports prepared by CWS and FWS. Waterfowl status information for black ducks and other waterfowl breeding in eastern North America will be made available to flyway councils and the public for their use and general information.

Banding data will be made available upon request from CWS and FWS. Currently, banding data are available for use to evaluate recovery patterns and harvest pressure on mallards and black ducks. The reliability of these data will increase as banding intensity improves and coverage is expanded. Overall responsibility for coordination and administration of the banding program, including banding authorization and retrieval for analysis purposes, will rest with CWS and FWS, with input from flyway councils.

Research findings generated from various studies supported by the BDJV will be made available through the normal publication review process. The primary purpose of the BDJV is to focus research efforts into areas that will identify factors limiting black duck numbers, and which will help guide management programs designed to improve their population status. Therefore, key findings emerging from the various studies conducted under the BDJV should have wide-spread application to scientific and applied disciplines alike. The goal will be to implement key research findings into management and to promote more informed decision making at all levels.


It is essential that the progress and accomplishments of the BDJV be assessed regularly to ensure that the stated objectives remain appropriate, and that the programs are meeting their objectives. An Evaluation Plan will be prepared to guide the continuing evaluation of the BDJV. The plan will follow the guidelines for evaluation as set out by the Continental Evaluation Team of NAWMP.

Implementation of the Evaluation Plan will ensure that the databases required to better manage black ducks and other eastern waterfowl will be of the highest possible quality. The ongoing evaluation process will aid in establishing priorities, guiding management decisions, assessing progress in achieving objectives, and identify information gaps that require additional research. Further, evaluation is essential to guide the future direction of the BDJV.


Further information on the Black Duck Joint Venture can be obtained from the Management Board Co-chairs:

Mr. Steven G. Curtis
Regional Director
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
49 Camelot Dr.
Nepean, Ontario

Mr. Ronald E. Lambertson
Regional Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Center Drive
Hadley, Massachusetts 01035

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