Archived News

Campus Wildlife Study Assesses Ecosystem Health

March 30, 2010

UC Davis wildlife researchers began catching ducks in the Arboretum in March and carrying them away. The ducks are being returned and released at the sites where they were caught within about two hours, no worse for the wear.

The researchers are examining the mallards' health and attaching identification bands as part of a long-term study of waterfowl and ecosystem health.

The research, funded largely by the National Institutes of Health, is intended to help human and wildlife health specialists better understand the flow of disease-causing organisms through wild and urban ecosystems. This understanding should help improve the health of the ducks, other wild and domestic animals, and people.

Veterinarian Walter Boyce, co-director of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center in the School of Veterinary Medicine, leads the study. He is an expert on animal pathogens, particularly those carried by wildlife that can cause diseases in domestic animals and people.

The researchers are using grain to lure the ducks into traps or under nets, then putting the birds in waterfowl carriers, to be taken a short distance away for the examinations. Researchers are taking blood and fecal samples, weighing and measuring the birds, assessing their general health, and attaching leg bands from the U.S. Geological Survey's Bird Banding Laboratory.

As of the end of March, about 40 birds had been sampled by Walter Boyce, Winston Vickers, Nils Warnock, and Yvette Hernandez.

Birds were given small metal web tags on each foot, and yellow leg marker bands on one leg. The yellow tags are quite visible and have numbers. Two birds were given federal silver leg bands. Most of the ducks have “bumblefoot" lesions on the bottom of their feet from walking on the bike paths, and they have relatively small flight muscles. These two conditions are seen commonly in captive birds that walk on flat surfaces and don't fly very much.

This is part of a larger study of disease in waterfowl (including avian influenza) along the Pacific Flyway run by Walter Boyce's lab.

This announcement is adapted from material developed and distributed by the UC Davis News Service and the Wildlife Health Center.