Population trends and habitat use of Harlequin Ducks in Rhode Island

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To assess population trends of Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) in Rhode Island (U.S.A.), we analyzed Christmas Bird Counts and other historical surveys and also conducted surveys during the winter of 2005-2006. We estimated sex and age ratios, evaluated the effects of tidal regime and time of day on survey precision, and quantified habitat use. The population in Rhode Island experienced logistic growth from 1976 to 2004, with approximately 150 birds now wintering at three primary sites in the state. We estimated that the current ratio of males to females in the region was 1.6:1 (62% males) and that 13% of males were first-winter birds. Most Harlequin Ducks were observed in rocky habitats within 50 m of the shore or offshore islands. We detected the greatest numbers of birds, with the least amount of variation, during morning surveys at low tide, suggesting that this may be the most appropriate time for population monitoring. Increases in the Rhode Island population and male-biased sex ratios may indicate a local population recovery resulting from a hunting ban initiated in 1990. Although most Harlequin Ducks in eastern North America winter in Maine, the population in Rhode Island represents one of the largest in the southern part of their range. ©2007 Association of Field Ornithologists.

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Journal of Field Ornithology