Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Distribution and Abundance of Ducks in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory

SR Morton, KG Brennan and MD Armstrong

Australian Wildlife Research 17(6) 573 - 590
Published: 1990


Aerial surveys between 1981 and 1984 were used to identify monthly trends in the abundance of wandering whistling-duck Dendrocygna arcuata, plumed whistling-duck D. eytoni, radjah shelduck Tadorna radjah, Pacific black duck Anas superciliosa, and grey teal A. gibberifrons on five floodplains of the Alligator Rivers region, 250 km east of Darwin in the monsoonal north of the Northern Territory. Ground surveys were conducted during the same period on one of the floodplains, the Magela plain, to provide more detailed information. The Magela floodplain was inhabited by few ducks during the wet season (November to March), but numbers then increased to dramatic peaks in the late dry season. The Nourlangie floodplain and Boggy Plain (a large backswamp of the South Alligator floodplain) showed similar patterns, but the numbers of ducks were usually fewer. Ducks were uncommon on the shallower East Alligator and Cooper floodplains except for relatively brief periods in the wet season. The ground surveys suggested that ducks sought out the persistent swamps that characterise the Magela floodplain in the dry season. Ground surveys also indicated that aerial surveys underestimated densities; on the basis of correction factors calculated from the ground surveys, peak numbers on the five floodplains were roughly estimated to be 400 000 wandering whistling-ducks, 70 000 plumed whistling-ducks, 20 000 radjah shelducks, 50 000 Pacific black ducks, and 50 000 grey teal. Pink-eared ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus and hardhead Aythya australis were recorded sporadically in low numbers. The Alligator Rivers region acted as a dry season refuge for large concentrations of ducks because of the atypical persistence of freshwaters on the Magela and Nourlangie floodplains and some of the backswamps of the South Alligator, such as Boggy Plain. The large aggregations appear to be unique in Australia.


© CSIRO 1990

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