Duck back after epic flight to Siberia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 December, 2010, 12:00am

A wild duck fitted with a transmitter last December made it back home on Christmas Day, to the delight of conservationists working on the project.

The duck is the only one of 23 from Hong Kong tagged with the device to have returned to Mai Po.

Its return will help ecologists understand the role of migratory birds and how they can be conserved by showing for the first time the bird's complete migration.

Officers at the Mai Po Nature Reserve were surprised when the northern pintail, numbered 91268, appeared on Christmas Day.

The ducks were fitted with a 20-gram solar-powered transmitter at Mai Po on December 9 last year.

The tracker shows that the bird left Deep Bay, off Lau Fau Shan, in February and took about five months to reach the Arctic Circle in June. During the northern migration it stopped in places including Jiangsu province, the Yellow Sea in South Korea, Heilongjiang province, the Amur estuary in eastern Russia and Siberia. It stayed in Siberia and bred for three months before heading south at the end of September. From there it flew at least 1,700 kilometres in three days - at about 50km/h - stopping in Russia and Japan before reaching Guangzhou this month. The cold front pushed it further south and prompted its return home after covering more than 6,000 kilometres.

The duck is expected to set off on another migration soon.

Of the other transmitters fitted to the ducks at Mai Po, only two are sending signals to the tracker. Others might either have fallen off or did not get enough sunlight, or the ducks could have been hunted. Another duck, a Eurasian wigeon, appears to have settled in North Korea as it has spent over a month in different places there.

Using funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, WWF Hong Kong collaborated with the University of Hong Kong's microbiology department, Asia Ecological Consultants and the US Geological Survey on the project.

Katherine Leung, WWF Hong Kong's reserve officer, said the project provided insight into links between breeding and non-breeding areas. 'During migration, ducks face many threats, like natural predators, hunters and diseases. Another worrying trend is development projects, including reclamation, which results possibly in habitat loss for them and other waterbirds,' she said. 'Their migration route will help us protect them better in the future.'