Biodiversity Research Institute
Biodiversity Research Institute
Show menu Hide menu
Waterfowl: Movement Studies
Waterfowl: Movement Studies

Wyoming Harlequin Duck
Conservation Studies

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: Dustin Meattey, Bill Hanson, Mark Burton

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 performed a Harlequin Duck migration study in Wyoming during 2016-2018. In spring, wildlife biologists and veterinarians from the US and Canada visited harlequin breeding streams to capture pairs and attach cutting edge tracking technology in order to track the migrations and seasonal movements of breeding Harlequin Ducks. 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 Wyoming during 2016-2018, we tracked the seasonal movements of nine male Harlequin Ducks captured and marked with satellite transmitters on breeding streams or spring staging locations within Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. All nine harlequins successfully initiated molt migration toward the Pacific coast. Male harlequins departed their breeding areas during the early portions of June through early July (June 3 – July 8).

The duration of molt migration from breeding sites to their Pacific coast molting areas ranged from ≤4 to 38 days. Male harlequins tended to utilize rivers as stopover locations during migration. Harlequins migrated through a wide variety of habitats, with a preference for temperate conifer forests. Three individuals also utilized grasslands, deserts, and shrublands during migration.

We identified the molting locations of seven male harlequins, which included the western coastline of Vancouver Island (n=5), the Salish Sea/Puget Sound (n=1), and coastal Oregon (n=1). Male harlequins generally remained at or near their molting sites during the winter season. One male was successfully tracked for its complete annual cycle.

Project Team

Project Team


BRI Staff:
Lucas Savoy
Dustin Meattey
Bill Hanson
Ken Wright

Wyoming Game and Fish Department:
Susan Patla
Carl Brown
Mark Gocke
Nate Huck

Environment and Climate Change Canada:
Sean Boyd
Malcolm McAdie

Grand Teton National Park:
John Stephenson
Sarah Hegg

Yellowstone National Park:
Doug Smith


Project Collaborators/Funders

This project was a collaborative effort among BRI, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone 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
  • Yellowstone 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
Biodiversity Research Institute