We determined, for the first time, individual linkages between breeding areas of nesting female scaly-sided mergansers Mergus squamatus in the Russian Far East and their previously unknown wintering grounds in coastal Korea and inland China. Geolocators were deployed on nesting females caught and recaptured on nests along a 40-km stretch of the Kievka River. Mean positions for brood-rearing females during the summer were on average within 61.9 km of the nest site, suggesting reasonable device accuracy for subsequent location of winter quarters. Geolocation data showed that most birds wintered on freshwater habitats throughout mainland China, straddling an area 830 km E−W and 1100 km N−S. Most wintered in discrete mountainous areas with extensive timber cover, large rivers and low human population density. Three birds tracked in more than one season returned to within 25−150 km of previous wintering areas in successive years, suggesting winter fidelity to catchments if not specific sites. A single female from the adjacent Avvakumovka catchment wintered on saltwater in Korea, at least 1300 km east of Chinese wintering birds. Most sea duck species (Tribe Mergini) form pairs away from breeding areas, suggesting that this high level of winter dispersal amongst close-nesting females is a potential mechanism to maintain gene flow in this threatened species that has specialist habitat requirements. Hence, female scaly-sided mergansers disperse widely from breeding areas, but show fidelity to nesting areas and winter quarters.
Endangered Species Research, 2012, Vol 17, p. 217-225