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Waterfowl: Movement Studies
Waterfowl: Movement Studies

Wyoming Harlequin Duck Study Tracking Migration Routes

Wyoming supports approximately 70 pairs of breeding Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) which are a designated "Species of Greatest Conservation Need" (Wyoming State Wildlife Action Plan 2017). In order to conserve Wyoming's Harlequin Duck population, the species' year-round habitat requirements, general breeding ecology, and migration patterns must be better understood. The Wyoming State Wildlife Action Plan (2017) identified the need for information on Harlequin Duck movements in Wyoming, and in coordination with other states.

Lead Investigator: Lucas Savoy
Contributing BRI Staff: Ken Wright

Project Goals

Project Goals

The Harlequin Duck is a designated “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” (Wyoming State Wildlife Action Plan 2017), yet little information is available on survivorship, migration movements, and winter habitat use areas. These data are needed to manage for the long-term viability of this species in Wyoming. Our initial project goals were to conduct an on-site visit to harlequin breeding streams in Wyoming, to begin color banding individuals, and to assess the location for a continued harlequin population monitoring study site.

Project Components

Project Components

The breeding habitat requirements and historical occupancy in breeding streams are well documented for many Rocky Mountain populations of Harlequin Ducks in the US and Canada. In Wyoming, Harlequin Ducks breed exclusively among mountain streams in the northwestern portion of the state, with significant concentrations in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and in the Teton Wilderness on the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. Harlequin Ducks breeding in the western U.S. and Canada migrate to the Pacific coastline for the winter. However, the specific migration routes, timing, and habitat types used during post-breeding activities (i.e., molting, staging, and migration) are much less understood for most western U.S. breeding harlequins.

In an effort to address these knowledge gaps, we initiated a Harlequin Duck migration study in Wyoming. In spring 2016, wildlife biologists and veterinarians from the US and Canada initiated a collaborative effort to track the migrations and seasonal movements of breeding Harlequin Ducks using cutting edge tracking technology. The male harlequins were equipped with a specialized implantable satellite transmitter, while a small geolocator tracking device was attached the to the leg bands of the females. In addition to Wyoming, collaborators tagged pairs of breeding Harlequin Ducks in Montana, Washington, and Alberta, Canada.


Project Updates

In May 2016, our Wyoming field research team visited Grand Teton National Park. Our goal was to capture two Harlequin Duck pairs on their breeding streams and attach the tracking devices. We walked the banks of historic harlequin breeding streams to locate pairs and attempt captures. We successfully captured two pairs of Harlequin Ducks and deployed the satellite transmitters and geolocators. Each harlequin was weighed, measured, and banded, and a blood and a feather sample were collected from each for genetic and contaminant analyses. In early July, both male harlequins migrated from their breeding streams to the coast of British Columbia.

Above: Migration routes of two male Harlequin Ducks captured May 2016 in Grand Teton National Park.

Molt migration was quick, lasting between 3-9 days as the Harlequins traveled across the boreal forest regions of Montana, Idaho, and Washington, utilizing river systems and mountain streams for stopover locations. The male Harlequins arrived at their molting locations in British Columbia in mid-late July. We hope to continue to receive data throughout the winter months to identify important wintering locations and map their spring migration back to their breeding streams. We will also return to the Grand Teton National Park streams in 2017, to attempt re-captures of the female Harlequin Ducks in order to retrieve the geolocator tracking devices and data. Currently, we have plans to deploy additional satellite transmitters and geolocators to Harlequin Duck pairs in Wyoming in 2017.

Above: Connection between breeding streams and molting locations of male Harlequin Ducks. 

Project Team

Project Team


Our Wyoming project team was a collaborative effort and consisted of wildlife biologists and veterinarians from BRI, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

BRI Staff:

  • Lucas Savoy
  • Vince Spagnuolo
  • Carl Brown
  • Trevor Nelson

Wyoming Game and Fish Department:

  • Susan Patla
  • Mark Gocke
  • Nate Huck

Environment and Climate Change Canada:

  • Sean Boyd
  • Malcolm McAdie

Grand Teton National Park:

  • John Stephenson
  • Sarah Hegg
  • Josh Seibel

Project Collaborators/Funders

This project was a collaborative effort among BRI, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. This project was funded through the generous support of The Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund. A significant contribution in the way of field staff support and a wildlife veterinarian to surgically implant the satellite transmitters was provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

  • Wyoming Game and Fish Department
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
Photo Credits: Header photo: © Ken Wright; Study region: © Ken Wright; Banded Harlequin Duck © BRI-Lucas Savoy; Banded Harlequin Duck 2 © BRI-Lucas Savoy; Project Team © BRI-Lucas Savoy
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