Counting Ducks With Teeth!
News from the BTO
3rd April 1997
Members of the British Trust for Ornithology, and other bird watchers, are being mobilised this spring to count Red-Breasted Mergansers and Goosanders on their territories mostly in upland Britain. These are the 'sawbills' -- the ducks with teeth. In fact they are not real teeth but these are diving ducks feeding on fish which have saw-toothed edges to their beaks to stop their slippery prey from escaping.
These birds come into conflict with fishermen because many of them are convinced that the predation by the ducks on young salmon are going to influence the numbers of fish which return in subsequent years. The survey is part of a larger project being run by the Department of the Environment and the Environment Agency. It is essential to know how many birds are present and the BTO has surveyed the expanding Goosander population before.
These birds are quite rare with only about 2,700 pairs of Goosander and 2,150 of Red-breasted Merganser. Their expansion even in the face of much persecution - both legal and illegal - shows that these birds are very successful at the moment. Legal shooting to protect fisheries in Scotland meant that 235 Red-breasted Mergansers were shot in 1991. The Goosander is the species expanding fastest with thriving populations in Wales and a recent first breeding record in the Netherlands.
These ducks breed along fast flowing rivers and help is needed in counting 300 selected stretches. The field work starts soon and volunteers are urgently needed - especially to cover Scottish rivers. Please contact Rebecca Harris at the BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU if you may be able to help.