Upon her arrival in east-central Arkansas, our hen finds excellent habitat conditions in and around Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. Over the winter, she spends much of her time in flooded forested wetlands, where she pairs with a mate and feeds heavily on acorns (another kind of seed that is rich in energy and essential nutrients), seeds of moist-soil plants, and a small but important complement of invertebrates that provide protein for the winter molt. Good wintering habitat conditions allow our hen and her mate to make it through the winter in good physical condition and, importantly, to begin their northward migration in February with ample energy reserves. Poor wintering habitat conditions could have forced the birds to delay their spring migration. Time is of the essence for our hen and her mate because mallards that arrive early on the breeding grounds are generally more productive than those arriving later. Similarly, heavier females are also more successful nesters.
Ducks Unlimited and its partners have conducted extensive research on waterfowl energetics and habitat quality on key wintering areas, such as the Central Valley of California, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and Gulf Coast. This research has helped determine the daily energy needs of waterfowl (see sidebar), how much food and energy are available per acre in different habitat types, how much of each habitat currently exists on specific landscapes, and how many waterfowl use these habitats and for how long. This information has been used to develop waterfowl foraging habitat models that estimate how much of each habitat type is needed to support waterfowl in key wintering areas.
DU and its partners have also worked together on priority wintering areas to estimate how much foraging capacity is available compared to what is required by waterfowl. In many areas, waterfowl rely on a combination of well-managed habitat on public land owned by state and federal agencies and on private lands managed by farmers and waterfowl hunting clubs. DU is working with these partners and others to deliver landscape-level conservation programs that will provide the foraging habitat waterfowl need to survive the winter and return to the breeding grounds in good shape.
Dr. Tom Moorman is director of conservation planning at DU’s Southern Regional Office in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
Diver Diets: Diving ducks and sea ducks have more varied diets during migration than puddle ducks. Scaup, for example, depend heavily on small, shrimp-like amphipods for building fat reserves, but they also consume snails, mussels, and other invertebrates, as well as some plant matter.