Harlequin duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) management plan

Official title: Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) Management Plan for the Harlequin Duck

Table of contents

Species at Risk Act

Management Plan Series

(Histrionicus histrionicus) Eastern Population,

in Atlantic Canada and Québec

Harlequin Duck, Eastern Population


May 2007

About the Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.” 

What is a species of special concern?

Under SARA, a species of special concern is a wildlife species that could become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats. Species of special concern are included in the SARA List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

What is a management plan?

Under SARA, a management plan is an action-oriented planning document that identifies the conservation activities and land use measures needed to ensure, at a minimum, that a species of special concern does not become threatened or endangered. For many species, the ultimate aim of the management plan will be to alleviate human threats and remove the species from the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. The plan sets goals and objectives, identifies threats, and indicates the main areas of activities to be undertaken to address those threats.

Management plan development is mandated under sections 65-72 of SARA (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/the_act/default_e.cfm).

A management plan has to be developed within three years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Five years is allowed for those species that were initially listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

Directions set in the management plan will enable jurisdictions, communities, land users, and conservationists to implement conservation activities that will have preventative or restorative benefits. Cost-effective measures to prevent the species from becoming further at risk should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty and may, in fact, result in significant cost-savings in the future.

The series

This series presents the management plans prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as plans are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and conservation initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/)and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat (www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/recovery/default_e.cfm).

Management Plan for the Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Eastern Population, in Atlantic Canada and Québec

 May 2007

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2007. Management Plan for the Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) Eastern Population, in Atlantic Canada and Québec . Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada. Ottawa. vii + 32 pp.

Additional copies:  

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/) 

Cover illustration:Harlequin Duck pair © Peter Thomas, CWS-NL, 2004

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Plan de gestion de l’Arlequin plongeur (Histrionicus histrionicus), population de l’Est, au Canada atlantique et au Québec [Proposition] »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2007. All rights reserved.

ISBN    978-0-662-45750-3

Cat. no.  En3-4/21-2007E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


This management plan has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Harlequin Duck, Eastern population, in Atlantic Canada and Québec. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its management plan for the Harlequin Duck, Eastern population, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This management plan also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species.

Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Harlequin Duck, Eastern population and Canadian society as a whole. The Minister will report on progress within five years.  


Environment Canada:

Canadian Wildlife Service – Atlantic Region (lead)

Canadian Wildlife Service – Québec Region

Parks Canada:

Parks Canada, Québec Service Centre, Québec

Parks Canada, Mainland Nova Scotia Field Unit

New Brunswick:

Renewable Resources Division

Department of Natural Resources

Newfoundland & Labrador:

Department of Environment and Conservation

Inland Fish and Wildlife Division

Nova Scotia:

Wildlife Division

Department of Natural Resources

Prince Edward Island:

Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry


Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune

Direction générale du Développement de la faune


The Management Plan was prepared by Peter W. Thomas.  


I would like to thank all the jurisdictional representatives from the five eastern Provinces that contributed to the development of this Management Plan. Additionally, thank you to Parks Canada, the NGOs, and participating aboriginal groups that include the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the Mi’kmaq of Maritime Canada who contributed to the development and writing of this document.


The Harlequin Duck is a migratory bird covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government.  The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 65) requires the competent minister to prepare management plans for listed special concern species. The Harlequin Duck was listed as Special Concern in May 2001.  Canadian Wildlife Service – Atlantic Region, Environment Canada led the development of this Management Plan.  All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the plan. The plan meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 68-70). It was developed in cooperation or consultation with:

·        Responsible jurisdictions - Environment Canada (Atlantic and Québec Regions), Parks Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, Prince Edward Island Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry , and the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec.

·        Aborginal groups throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and Maritime Canada.

·        Nunatsiavut Government

·        Innu Nation

·        Mi’kmaq of Maritime Canada

·        Private Sector - Representatives from local naturalists and other organizations

·       Québec: Hunting, Fishing, Trapping Coordinating Committee

·        Ian Goudie

·        Paul Linegar

·        Bruce Mactavish

This will be the first Management Plan posted on the SARA Public Registry for the Harlequin Duck.  At this time the long term conservation of the species will be implemented in a single-species approach, as there are no other listed species at risk that occupy comparable habitat and a multi-species approach would not be appropriate.  However, the conservation and long-term health of the Harlequin Duck population may enhance conservation and awareness of other species.

This Management Plan contains actions toward Harlequin Duck conservation for Atlantic Canada and Québec only.  No management actions have been included for Nunavut Territory due to the need for further consultation.  A modified Management Plan will be issued to incorporate Nunavut management actions once further consultation is completed.


In 1990 the Harlequin Duck - Eastern population (Histrionicus histrionicus) was designated as an Endangered Species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).  This designation was based on low population estimates and localized decreases in the number of birds at several of the known wintering areas in eastern North America.  Since its listing in 1990, our knowledge of the species has improved through increased research, inventory and monitoring.  In 2001, the Harlequin Duck (Eastern population) was reassessed by COSEWIC and was downlisted to a species of Special Concern.  COSEWIC cited the increasing population at four key wintering locations (Thomas and Robert 2001), and the identification of another wintering population in southwest Greenland that had North American affiliations as the reason for downlisting.  The eastern North American wintering population of Harlequin Duck is considered by the Species at Risk Act (SARA) legal species list to be one population. 

Harlequin Ducks are now listed under the Species at Risk Act Schedule 1 legal species list as a species of Special Concern.  Harlequin Ducks are listed as Endangered in New Brunswick, Endangered in Nova Scotia, and Vulnerable in Newfoundland and Labrador under their respective Endangered Species Acts.  Québec listed the Harlequin Duck as a species susceptible to listing as endangered or vulnerable under Québec’s Loi sur les espèces menacées ou vulnérables.  The Harlequin Duck is presently not listed in Prince Edward Island. 

In 1995, a Harlequin Duck Recovery Plan was completed to provide guidance on recovery priorities for the eastern population of Harlequin Duck.  The plan’s initial goal was to achieve a sustained population of 2000 individuals wintering within eastern North America for at least three of five consecutive years by 2005, followed by the long term goal of at least 3000 wintering individuals (with at least 1000 adult females) for at least three of five consecutive years by 2010 (Montevecchi et al. 1995).  Although population levels are increasing at the four key wintering locations in eastern North America (Thomas and Robert 2001), the eastern North American wintering population has still not met the initial goal outlined in the 1995 Recovery Plan.  The generally accepted population estimate for the eastern North American wintering population is 1800 individuals (Mittelhauser 2000, Thomas and Robert 2001, Robertson and Thomas in press).  However, survey effort from 2005 - 2006 suggests that the 2000 individual mark was met for these two years (A. Boyne and P. Thomas, pers. comm.).  The population is not yet believed to be at 3000 wintering individuals in eastern North America.

In following with the priorities of the original Recovery Plan, the goal for the Management Plan is to maintain a wintering population of 3000 Harlequin Ducks in eastern North America for three of five consecutive years.  To meet this goal, the Management Plan has established a series of objectives and actions meant to address maintaining population levels and protecting important habitat. 

Assessing population numbers is regarded as a high priority for this Plan.  Refining present monitoring programs to ensure they reflect a comprehensive view of the Harlequin Duck population is a priority.  Additionally, a more complete understanding of the threats to the species will be imperative.  The threats to Harlequin Ducks are wide ranging, and the impact of these threats may vary from one part of the Harlequin Duck’s range to another.  This plan recommends that a comprehensive threat assessment be completed to more definitively assess these threats and to develop an approach for addressing and mitigating their impacts.

SARA requires that Management Plans, which outline conservation measures, be developed for Special Concern species and their habitat. It specifies that such plans are to be developed in collaboration and consultation with all levels of government, aboriginal groups and stakeholders.  This plan reflects the document requirements as indicated by section 65 of the Species at Risk Act.

This plan is a cooperative document that has benefited from the input of multiple jurisdictions, stakeholders and interested groups.  While the federal government has primary legislative jurisdiction over the species, most of the habitat is under the legislative jurisdiction of provincial governments.  The Canadian Wildlife Service will function in a coordination role to maximize benefits from the efforts of programs and participants towards the management of the Harlequin Duck.

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