Massachusetts has been a leader in waterfowl research since the turn of the century. The term "waterfowl" includes ducks, geese and swans. As long ago as 1908, the State Ornithologist conducted basic life history studies on many bird species, including waterfowl. It was in Massachusetts that it was discovered that there was only one type of black duck. The 1925 edition of Forbush's Birds of New England had listed two species, but Massachusetts' research showed that the so-called "red-legged black ducks" were not a separate subspecies at all. They were merely adult males that didn't migrate south from Canada until late December!
In the 1950s and '60s much of the basic research on the ecology of the wood duck was conducted by MassWildlife's waterfowl biologists working across the state and especially on the Great Meadows impoundments in Concord. In the 1970s, Massachusetts' waterfowl research centered on mallards, with the eventual recognition by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that eastern mallards are a separate population and can be managed differently than prairie mallards. In the late 1980s and throughout the '90s, research on Canada geese has shown that there are two separate populations, one migratory, the other resident. This has led to the development of special hunting seasons to help control growing populations of nonmigratory resident geese while protecting the migratory population, which had declined temporarily due to a number of cold, wet breeding seasons. Most recently, New England-based research has confirmed historic accounts that a separate population of Canada geese breeds in maritime Canada and that these birds winter predominantly in southern New England and on Long Island, New York.
In addition to conducting its own research, MassWildlife cooperates in joint survey efforts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and with biologists from other state fish and wildlife agencies. As part of the cooperative interstate effort to manage waterfowl, the Division takes part in annual mid-winter waterfowl surveys, heads up the northeastern waterfowl breeding survey, engages in summer banding efforts, and participates in the Atlantic Flyway Council meetings.
MassWildlife maintains over 1,600 wood duck nest boxes throughout the state. Additional boxes have been built and placed by school and scout groups, sportsmen and other interested individuals. This is important for wood ducks, as they depend on tree cavities for nesting. Massachusetts' forests are relatively young and thrifty tree farming has minimized the number of old trees with suitable nesting cavities. Developing suitable wood duck boxes and placing them in the right locations has been key to restoring wood ducks in the Commonwealth.
MassWildlife is also working closely with Ducks Unlimited to restore and preserve valuable wildlife marshes. Funds from the sale of Massachusetts' duck stamps are set aside to support habitat purchase and improvement, research and surveys through the North American Waterfowl Management plan, and acquire and manage marshes in eastern Canada. Also, the revenue raised from the sale of Massachusetts' land stamps (required of anyone hunting or fishing in Massachusetts) is earmarked for the acquisition of key habitat areas including wetlands used by waterfowl and other wildlife. This program generates more than $500,000 per year for wildlife lands!