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Know the West

Backpacks and quacks

  Sporting highly sophisticated "backpacks' that are really 20-gram satellite transmitters, 50 female pintail ducks are flying north from the Central Valley in California this spring. The ducks are the focus of Discovery for Recovery, a four-year study by Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Waterfowl Association. Its object is determining pintail migration routes and habitat. While other duck populations remain healthy, pintail numbers have dropped from 10.3 million in the 1950s to about 3 million in 1999. Scientists don't know what's wrong, but they suspect many birds are not using their usual breeding grounds on the Canadian prairies. The satellite data relays each duck's geographical location and activity level, and is accompanied by on-the-ground habitat information collected by the research team. Through this study, the first of its kind, "we hope to find clues for their conservation in the future," says Ducks Unlimited biologist Bruce Batt. On the project's Web site, you can find out more about the study, and the satellite technology used, and trace each bird's migration route through interactive maps. The site also offers a weekly biologist's journal and a forum for questions.

View Discovery for Recovery at www.werc.usgs.gov/pinsat. For more information, contact Tildy La Farge at Ducks Unlimited at 901/758-3859.