DUPUYER – State wildlife biologists are capturing one of Montana’s rarest birds and they want to learn more about the Harlequin duck.

The Harlequin duck spends most of its life on the Pacific Ocean, but each spring harlequin pairs return to Montana’s swift cold streams to breed.

“Most people don’t realize that Harlequin ducks are sea ducks, they are not like our typical waterfowl that we see flying around like mallards and geese,” said Chris Hammond with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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“These birds make a living on the ocean that’s what they are built for and then they come here and it’s a very specific habitat niche that they are filling in these high mountain streams, he added.

But it is this unique habitat that has biologists concerned about the Harlequins future,” for us, there’s a lot of concerns, whether it’s on the breeding streams here with potential population declines due to climate change,” Hammond said.

State wildlife biologists are going to areas never studied before, like on the Rocky Mountain Front, to capture and put radios on Harlequins so they can learn more about the ducks.

“So, it’s going to tell us a lot of information about when the females are actually starting to do their incubation, it’s going to tell us when they are migrating, whether or not their nests are failing,” Hammond said.

“It tells us all that information just based on that geo-locator that is on [the] band. We can get a lot of natural history information and just basic ecology just from this information we are getting here,” Hammond added.

The same type of research is also being conducted in Washington, Wyoming and Canada which will allow wildlife managers to create a conservation strategy to preserve the Harlequin in the future.

Biologists plan to capture 34 Harlequin pairs across the entire study area.

Reporting by Winston Greeley – Montana FWP

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