Duck Research

In order to manage game species effectively it is important to quantify the numbers harvested.

The Game Management Authority conducts the following research on duck across the state.

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The Victorian Government is seeking to adopt a more defensible and rigorous method for regulating the recreational harvest of game ducks in Victoria, requiring robust estimates of the total abundances of game ducks in Victoria. This will be achieved by undertaking a comprehensive aerial survey of the state’s water bodies in October and November 2021. In total, 800 wetlands and 60 sections of waterways will be surveyed.

The Victorian aerial game duck survey design was developed by the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (ARI) using a stratified random sample of wetlands using double observer counts of ducks at pre-determined wetlands and waterways. Samples of waterbodies (dams, wetlands or sewage ponds) and waterways (streams or irrigation channels) were drawn using a stratified random sampling design with the strata being the waterbody type as well as region (North, South, East, West). This sampling design differs to that used previously for the pilot study, which used a multistage (clustered) sampling design based on 10 km hexagonal sampling units. The stratified random design has been shown to result in estimates of duck abundance with higher precision than the multistage design and requires a smaller overall sample size.

This will be the largest and most comprehensive aerial survey of game ducks undertaken in Victoria allowing an accurate estimation of the total abundance of species of game duck to be made. Other surveys have provided an index of abundance showing trends over time rather than a total estimate.

Designing an efficient survey that covers multiple species simultaneously is extremely complex and the background work that has gone into the Victorian game duck monitoring program to date is world class.

GMA Game Duck Aerial Survey – Aircraft Operations Plan, 2021

In November 2020, the GMA conducted a pilot aerial survey to estimate the total number of game ducks in Victoria. The purpose of the pilot was to test the rigor of a proposed game duck monitoring program under real world conditions.

The aerial survey was conducted by experienced wildlife consultants counting the number of game ducks from a helicopter, on over 650 randomly selected waterbodies throughout the state, including wetlands, sewerage ponds and farm dams.  Satellite imagery was then used to determine the amount of water in the landscape and the actual number of ducks counted was then multiplied to estimate the total number of ducks present in Victoria at that time.

This is the largest and most comprehensive aerial survey of game ducks undertaken in Victoria and the first time that an accurate estimate of the total number of game ducks has been possible. Other surveys have provided an index of abundance showing trends over time rather than a total estimate.

An evaluation of the monitoring program, conducted by the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research and an expert who works in this field conducted a review of the survey design that found that the aerial survey is an effective way of counting ducks and provides critical data to ensure that duck season arrangements remain sustainable. Recommendations for refinements to the monitoring program are included.

The Game Management carries out a range of surveys to collect data on duck and quail populations across the state. These surveys inform decisions about setting rules and regulations for hunting seasons, to ensure sustainability in game hunting in Victoria.

Phone surveys help us to estimate the number of duck and quail harvested during the hunting season. These surveys gather information on a wide range of hunting behaviours including about hunter effort, days spent in the field, location, and the number of duck and quail harvested.

The results of these surveys are published annually in a report on the Estimates of harvest for duck and Stubble Quail in Victoria.

We also collect data on the actual daily take by a sample of hunters on the opening weekend, by surveying hunters’ bags. This research is an important component of assessing the impact of the duck hunting season on populations of game species.

Similar surveys have been conducted on opening weekend at Victorian wetlands since 1972 to determine both hunter success and the species involved in opening weekend harvests.

Elements of the hunter bag surveys are informed by A field guide for ageing and sexing Victorian native game birds.

The field guide describes ageing and sexing characters of the Victorian game birds (eight species of duck, and Stubble Quail, focusing on attributes that can be recorded from wings and tail feathers from birds harvested by hunters.

Each year the Game Management Authority conducts phone surveys to estimate the number of deer, duck and quail harvested in the state.

The following reports detail the results of the duck surveys.


Estimates of harvest for duck and Stubble Quail in Victoria 2020 (PDF version)


Estimates of harvest for duck and Stubble Quail in Victoria 2019 (PDF version)

Hunter's Bag Survey: 2019 Victorian duck hunting season (PDF version)


Estimates of harvest for duck and Stubble Quail in Victoria 2018 (PDF version)

Hunter's Bag Survey: 2018 Victorian duck hunting season (PDF version)


Estimates of harvest for duck and Stubble Quail in Victoria (PDF version)

Hunter's Bag Survey: 2017 Victorian duck hunting season (PDF version)

Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail from 1985 to 2015: Combining mail and telephone survey results (PDF version)


Game Birds

Estimates of harvest for duck and quail in Victoria (PDF Version)

Hunter's Bag Survey: 2016 Victorian duck hunting season (PDF Version)


Game Birds

Estimates of harvest for duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version)

Hunter's Bag Surveys: 2014 and 2015 Victorian duck hunting seasons (PDF version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version) (Word Version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version) (Word Version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version) (Word Version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version) (Word Version)


Estimates of harvest for deer, duck and quail in Victoria (PDF version) (Word Version)

The GMA is conducting research into the frequency of wounding in duck hunting.

This research aims to provide a better understanding of wounding rates by using radiography (x-ray technology) on live-caught ducks. Results from the x-rays will help to determine the frequency of embedded shot found in unrecovered ducks and will provide a measure to determine how often ducks are wounded from hunting. The research focusses on x-raying first-year birds, exposed to only one hunting season, so that we can monitor the impact of hunting on wounding rates over the long-term. This research will be used to monitor wounding rates over time and assess the impact of education programs, changes in hunting practices or regulations on the frequency of wounding.

This research is based on a similar research conducted on duck and goose populations in Denmark - Reducing wounding of game by shotgun hunting: effects of a Danish action plan on pink‐footed geese

Research of this kind has not been conducted in Australia in over 40 years.

This research began in late-2020 and is planned to be ongoing.

In 2010, an expert Scientific Panel was convened by the Adaptive Harvest Management subcommittee of the Hunting Advisory Committee to recommend a robust scientific approach to sustainable waterfowl harvesting in Victoria that would:

  • consider previous work and evaluate the current harvest approach in Victoria
  • investigate other approaches adopted throughout the world and relevant scientific research
  • into adaptive and other wildlife harvest management models consider the existing literature on the ecology and biology of Australian waterfowl
  • populations (habitat utilisation, population dynamics, movement patterns, etc.) whendeveloping an approach on harvest management
  • identify a scientific credible harvest management model that can be delivered at minimal cost.

The report below details the comittee's findings and recommendations for an adaptive harvest model.

The Victorian government has committed to implementing the Waterfowl Conservation Harvest Model to ensure the sustainable hunting of game ducks.

GMA commissioned ARI and NSW DPI researchers to undertake the review.  A report has been prepared and makes a series of recommendations to improve and modernise the approach.

The review proposes a staged approach to implementation across the immediate, mid and longer-terms, scaling up as more information becomes available and ultimately allowing the model to operate in a more sophisticated way.

This report outlines the design of a robust aerial (helicopter) monitoring program to estimate the abundance of game ducks. Total abundance estimates are a critical input into the population model for Adaptive Harvest Management. The report recommends the theoretical survey design should be tested and refined following collection of an initial set of monitoring data in pilot study.

This report also analyses historical game duck harvest data in Victoria and has found that both bag limit and season length are positively related to harvest size.

Government has committed to introducing adaptive harvest management (AHM) for game duck hunting in Victoria.

An important part of implementing AHM is a robust monitoring program to estimate game duck abundance. The GMA has commissioned an expert quantitative ecologist to design a state-wide monitoring program. Government has funded a pilot survey project for 2020 to test the theoretical monitoring program design and evaluate its performance by collecting real data in the field. Data will be gathered by counting duck numbers from helicopter surveys during spring at approximately 500–600 wetlands, dams and sewerage ponds throughout the state.

This approach was adapted from similar surveys conducted in the Riverina of New South Wales each year. Other research necessary for AHM, such as estimating harvest levels, breeding success and hunter effort, are already in place, although further studies (e.g. satellite tracking of duck movements) may be required in subsequent years to refine the model.

GMA Game Duck Aerial Survey – Aircraft Operations Plan, 2020

The Summer Waterbird Count is conducted in February each year.

Since 1987, various government agencies and departments have monitored selected Victorian wetlands to provide information on game duck distribution and abundance, waterbird breeding and, importantly, any concentrations of rare or threatened species and colonially breeding waterbirds. The collected data is used to consider whether wetlands should be closed to duck hunting to protect non-game or breeding waterbirds, including waterfowl.


Victorian Duck Season Priority
Waterbird Count, 2021

Victorian Duck Season Priority
Waterbird Count, 2020

2019 Summer Waterbird Count

2018 Summer Waterbird Count

2017 Summer Waterbird Count

2016 Summer Waterbird Count

2014 and 2015 Summer Waterbird Count

This report identifies key features that can be used to determine age and sex of nine game bird species (eight ducks and the Stubble Quail).

These age and sex characteristics were identified by examining museum skins, and wing and tail specimens obtained from hunters during opening weekend of the 2017 and 2018 duck hunting seasons.

The report doubles as a field guide with commissioned paintings showing the differences between males and females, and between adults and juveniles.

This information can be used to inform decisions about the hunting season, such as the duration of the season and daily bag limits.

This field guide equips the waterfowl hunter with information to assist them in identifying the age, sex and moulting stages in harvested game ducks.

This information can provide insight into a population's productivity, current status and recruitment from season to season.

All waterfowl hunters in Victoria must be competent in identifying different waterbird species. However, this guide is not intended to educate hunters on species identification, but rather to illustrate methods of determining age, sex and moult.

This report provides a transparent process for determining bird species most likely to be negatively affected by disturbance from duck hunting. The report includes species susceptibility rankings and is a useful objective tool to make informed decisions in managing duck hunting where significant concentrations of rare or threatened species are present at wetlands during the hunting season.

The GMA recently established a Wounding Reduction Working Group, with the aim of providing advice that will assist the GMA in developing a Gamebird Wounding Reduction Action Plan for consideration by government. The Working Group is chaired by Professor Andrew Fisher and comprises representatives from hunting, animal welfare, a firearms industry representative and a Shotgunning Education Program trainer.

On 29 July 2021, the Working Group held its inaugural meeting, which included two presentations on research and actions that have occurred in Denmark to address gamebird wounding.

Wounding (crippling) of waterbirds by shotgun shooting: some scientific background from Danish research
Professor Jesper Madsen is the Head of the Centre for Adaptive Nature Management in the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, Denmark. His areas of expertise cover wildlife ecology, migratory waterbird ecology and management, and adaptive natural resource management. His presentation covered the recent history of research into wounding in Denmark; the extent of wounding with a focus on gamebirds and the major causes of wounding; the contribution of wounding in total losses (harvest) caused by hunting and their inclusion in harvest estimates to ensure sustainability; and the role of research and monitoring in developing a management approach in order to achieve change.

Hunters and their involvement in wounding
Niels Søndergaard is the Director of Education and Advisory at the Danish Hunters Association. His educational qualifications include wildlife management and forestry, and has previously worked as an adviser to the Danish Ministry of Environment on practical hunting, wildlife management, forestry and nature. His presentation focused on: the Danish hunting community’s role in recognising and addressing waterfowl wounding; the hunting community taking a leadership role in changing culture and hunter behaviour; regulatory and non-regulatory approaches adopted in Denmark to reduce wounding; and the continuous improvement sought by the hunting community.

State Game Reserves (SGRs) are an important part of Victoria's park and reserve system.  These reserves were set aside for the conservation of wildlife and to allow for the hunting of game species during the open season.  There are currently 200 SGRs across Victoria which cover an area of about 75,000 hectares.

The first State Game Reserves were purchased using licence fees collected from duck hunters who identified early on that the draining of wetlands was seriously impacting waterbird habitat and populations.  Jack Smith Lake Game Reserve was the first SGR to be proclaimed in 1958 and ever since these reserves have played an important role in conservation and recreation.  In addition to game hunting opportunities during the open season, these reserves provide recreational opportunities for water sports, camping, bird-watching and fishing all year round.

Critically, this network of reserves plays an important conservation role at both the local and international scale. Seventy SGRs support threatened species and eighteen SGRs are listed as wetland of significant importance under the international RAMSAR convention.

To better inform the management of these important reserves, the Game Management Authority, with the assistance of Parks Victoria, have conducted a state-wide audit of the reserves.  The results of this audit are provided in the report below.

The GMA monitors the opening weekend harvest of ducks using wing samples and tail feathers provided by duck hunters. These samples are analysed using the Field Guide for Ageing and Sexing Victorian Native Game Birds, to determine the species, age, sex and stage of moult of harvested birds. The age of the birds allows us to monitor breeding success from the previous year. The data collected from this research helps to monitor duck hunting and the health of our game duck populations.

Page last updated: 15 Oct 2021