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Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau - More Information

Background information on DU's Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau conservation priority area
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Importance to waterfowl

Waterfowl populations in the RCP have not been well studied. Most research has been conducted in mid-latitude habitats between 2,100-3,000 m elevation. Surprisingly, waterfowl are common in these areas. Generally, peak waterfowl populations occur during spring and fall migration periods, particularly in the intermountain basins and riparian corridors. In beaver ponds and glacial wetland habitats, numbers of waterfowl decline as females proceed with incubation and males seek larger wetlands for the molt. Often, a molt migration occurs from higher elevation forested habitats to large lakes and reservoirs in intermountain basins. During fall, post-fledging young birds also move toward lower-elevation staging areas in mountain parks. Most mid-latitude montane wetlands freeze during October, greatly reducing the amount of available wetland habitat. Some wetland areas, however, such as the San Luis Valley in Colorado, retain open water areas as a result of warm water flowing from springs and artesian wells. Major river systems also afford winter habitat, particularly if cereal grain crops or other foods are located nearby.

Species composition of the waterfowl in the RCP varies seasonally and in relation to the wetland community (Table 2). Mallards and green-winged teal are usually the most common species in both intermountain parks and high elevation Montane and Subalpine zones. Gadwalls, northern pintails, American wigeon, cinnamon teal, northern shoveler, redheads, lesser scaup, and Canada geese are other common breeders in the intermountain basins. Trumpeter swans are important year-round residents in the northern RCP in and around Yellowstone NP. In beaver and glacial ponds of the Upper Montane and Subalpine zones, ring-necked ducks, Barrow's goldeneyes, buffleheads, and gadwalls are common. The peak of nest initiation for early-nesting ducks (mallards and green-winged teal) varies from early May to early June, depending on snow conditions and wetland availability. Late-nesting species such as ring-necked ducks begin nesting nearly a month later than early-nesting species.

Table 2. Relative species abundance of waterfowl in different RCP wetland types during spring and fall migration (M or m), breeding (B or b), and wintering (W or b) periods. Uppercase letters denote greater relative abundance than lowercase letters (from Ringelman 1992).

Species

Intermountain basin wetlands

Beaver ponds

Glacial ponds

American wigeon

M,B

b

b

Barrow's goldeneye

m

m,b

m,b

Blue-winged teal

m,b

--

--

Bufflehead

m,b

m,b

m,b

Canada goose

M,B,w

b

--

Cinnamon teal

m,B

--

--

Common merganser

m

m,b

m,b

Gadwall

M,B

b

b

Green-winged teal

M,B,w

m,B

m,b

Lesser scaup

M,B

--

--

Mallard

M,B,w

m,B

m,B

Northern pintail

M,B,w

--

--

Northern shoveler

M,B

--

--

Redhead

M,B

--

--

Ring-necked duck

m,b

M,B

M,B

Ruddy duck

m,b

--

--

Trumpeter swan

b,w

 

 

Tundra swan

M,w

--

--

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