You’ve just pulled on your heavy boots. Your coat is zipped to your chin. Before you walk out the door, you pull your hood up as extra protection against the blistering wind.
You’re now ready to face a typical winter day in Canada. Like many Canucks, you start dreaming of a warm getaway: a sandy beach, or a lush golf course, perhaps.
But if you’re a redhead duck, you’re happily dabbling in the sun-warmed waters of Laguna Madre de Tamaulipas. This coastal Mexican wetland along the the Gulf of Mexico, annually hosts approximately 35 per cent of this species’ population in North America.
While redhead ducks occur in breeding habitats across the United States and Canada during spring and summer months, at the onset of fall, they begin their journey south.
And they’re not alone. Many other migratory waterfowl, including pintail, blue-winged teal, and wigeon make the annual trek.
While some of the members of these and other species will stop in southern parts of the United States, many continue on to Mexico, and some travel as far as Colombia and Venezuela. “We have areas in Mexico that are highly important for some species of waterfowl,” says Eduardo Carrera, chief executive officer of Ducks Unlimited de Mexico (DUMAC), Ducks Unlimited Canada’s southernmost partner.
Because of this, a co-operative approach to waterfowl and wetland conservation across the continent is important, he says. “This allows us to guarantee long-term conservation…throughout all the migratory corridors.”
In Mexico, DUMAC staff is helping to achieve this mission through professional training programs at the John E. Walker Research and Training Centre. “It’s amazing what they’re doing there,” says Scott Yaich, chief scientist at Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DUI).
Located near the small town of Celestún, the centre is nestled amongst approximately 200,000 acres (80,937 hectares) of federally protected coastal wetlands, along the Gulf of Mexico. Built in 1986 and named for DUMAC’s first president, the John E. Walker Research and Training Centre is a base for mangrove habitat restoration work, wetland research, as well as workshops and professional training programs.
One of the programs offered at the centre is the 62-day Reserve Manager Training Program (RESERVA), an internationally-recognized training course for wildlife professionals from Mexico, as well as Central and South America. Introduced 26 years ago, RESERVA is especially important for people in Mexico, where there’s no formal degree programs for wildlife management. “It’s a world class operation,” says Yaich. “It really has had an important impact on conservation in that part of the world.”
Since it was first introduced, the program has trained over 500 professionals from all the different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. “It is one of the most important ways that we have been able to spread the Ducks Unlimited mission,” says Carrera. Many individuals who complete the course go on to conservation leadership roles in their respective countries.
But DUMAC’s training and educational efforts don’t stop there.
Carrera recently spent a week at the John E. Walker Research and Training Centre, helping document wetland restoration projects on film. The footage collected will be featured in a video that will be shown at the DU Convention in Alaska, this June.
“There are a lot of people who tend to think that birds don’t fly further than the United States, and that is not an accurate perception,” says Carrera. With a modest budget of just $3.4 million, and 138 Mexican wetlands designated as areas of international importance, the DUMAC team is working to correct that misconception, to the benefit of the redhead duck and many others.
“As we have always said, birds know no boundaries,” says Carrera. “Embracing the continental conservation perspective allows us to cover all those habitats that are highly important for a lot of different species of migratory birds.”
Percentages of notable North American migratory waterfowl that winter in Mexico:
- Pacific black brant—85 per cent
- Redhead—35 per cent
- Wigeon—25 per cent
- Pintail—between 20 and 25 per cent
- Green-winged teal—20 per cent
- Blue-winged teal—84 per cent
- White-fronted and snow geese (mid-continent population)—20 per cent