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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Completing the Cycle Initiative

Sustaining Atlantic Flyway waterfowl populations throughout their annual journey
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By Kristin Schrader

Waterfowlers mark time according to the season and where the ducks are. From spring courtship flights and summer brood-rearing to the fall migration and wintering period, waterfowl use a variety of habitats throughout the year. Thanks to sound science, we know more than ever about what these magnificent birds need to thrive during their annual journey. Ducks Unlimited's continental conservation work supports waterfowl throughout all phases of their life cycle. In the Atlantic Flyway, the aptly named Completing the Cycle Initiative will focus on the most important threats to waterfowl populations in this region and ensure that the birds return to their breeding grounds healthy and ready to successfully reproduce.

The Completing the Cycle Initiative area stretches from Maryland north to Ontario, Québec, and Canada's Atlantic Provinces, a region that supports millions of breeding, migrating, and wintering ducks and geese. At least 34 species of waterfowl migrate through or winter in this initiative area. Many of the Atlantic Flyway's remaining wetlands are in close proximity to some of the most populated areas of the United States and Canada. Key habitats include wetlands associated with Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain River Valleys, Lakes Erie and Ontario, the hardwood and Boreal forests of eastern Canada, and the northeast Atlantic coastal zones. These wetlands are not only vital to the needs of waterfowl, but also provide recreation, improved water quality, and flood protection for millions of people.

The Completing the Cycle Initiative is DU's approach to addressing the extensive habitat loss that has occurred in this region. The health of waterfowl populations depends on high-quality habitat at every stage of their life cycle. The American black duck, for instance, migrates thousands of miles between its breeding and wintering grounds each year. Black ducks that winter along the Atlantic coast breed from Maine to Ontario to Newfoundland, largely on beaver ponds and other freshwater wetlands in the eastern Boreal Forest. Many of these birds fly south in fall across the lower Great Lakes before finally arriving on their wintering grounds in coastal areas of Long Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Common eiders will also benefit from the Completing the Cycle Initiative. These sea ducks primarily nest on rocky islands off the coasts of eastern and northern Canada and winter along the New England coast as far south as Massachusetts. They migrate along the coastline between their breeding and wintering grounds, relying on mussels and other invertebrates to sustain them during their travels. 

HELPING MILLIONS OF WATERFOWL COMPLETE THE CYCLE The Completing the Cycle Initiative area is located in the northeastern portion of the Atlantic Flyway. This landscape provides vital habitat for a great abundance and diversity of waterfowl, including:
  • An estimated 2.5 million breeding ducks from Maine to Virginia, and an estimated 4.5 million in Canada
  • The majority of American black ducks
  • Approximately half of the continent's canvasbacks
  • The bulk of wintering Atlantic Population Canada geese
  • The majority of the eastern population of black scoters
  • The entire population of Atlantic brant


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