DU Mobile Apps
Banding Together for Waterfowl

understanding waterfowl


Understanding Waterfowl: A Matter of Productivity

Biologists have known for decades that native prairie with a high wetland density is the gold standard for producing ducks. Large expanses of unbroken grassland offer secure upland cover for ground-nesting hens, and numerous small, shallow wetlands provide the invertebrate food resources female ducks need to produce eggs and successfully raise their broods. While both grass and water are important to breeding waterfowl, wetlands often prove to be the most unpredictable resources on the landscape.

Understanding Waterfowl: The Amazing Egg

For waterfowl, the cycle of life begins anew each year with the eggs that are laid and carefully nurtured by nesting birds on their breeding grounds. An egg consists of three main parts: the yolk, albumen (egg white), and shell. Everything a duckling needs for its development is contained within these three components.

Understanding Waterfowl: Wood Duck Box Management

The 1930s marked the rise of the wildlife management profession, as well as experimentation with the use of manmade nest boxes to help revive wood duck populations depleted by years of habitat loss and overharvest. Dr. Frank Bellrose, regarded as the father of wood duck management, and his colleague Arthur Hawkins began using nest boxes and studying nesting female wood ducks at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois. Since their pioneering efforts, nest box programs have become popular among government agencies, conservation organizations, and private citizens for studying and propagating wood ducks.

Understanding Waterfowl: An Odd Duck

The harlequin duck is among North America's most unusual waterfowl species

Understanding Waterfowl: Ducks in Motion

Whether it's a huge flock of lesser snow geese passing overhead, a hen pintail leading her recently hatched brood overland, or a canvasback diving for aquatic vegetation, waterfowl are fascinating to watch when they are on the move.

Understanding Waterfowl: Waterfowl and the California Drought

Ducks and geese may face severe water and food shortages in the Central Valley this year

Understanding Waterfowl: Beaver Ponds and Breeding Ducks

Growing beaver populations have created an abundance of high-quality habitat for waterfowl

DU & UND Duck Nest Cam: Bluewing Leaving Nest

Clips are from University of North Dakota field cameras placed on duck nests at a Ducks Unlimited property in central North Dakota. DU is collaborating with UND on the nest cams project to study the habits of blue-winged teal.

Understanding Waterfowl: The Nesting Period

The health of waterfowl populations depends largely on the ability of the birds to successfully nest and hatch broods

Understanding Waterfowl: Waterfowl Bands and Other Markers

Bagging a banded duck or goose is always cause for celebration, but these coveted trophies also play a vital role in waterfowl management. By John M. Coluccy, Ph.D.

Understanding Waterfowl: Winter Weather and Waterfowl

For much of North America, the winter of 2013-2014 will not soon be forgotten, as it brought record snowfall and the coldest temperatures in at least 20 years to many locations. When duck hunters hear of extreme winter weather, they instinctively focus on how it may impact their hunting success.

Understanding Waterfowl: Flocking Together

While most waterfowl seek isolation during the breeding season, the birds are often highly gregarious the rest of the year. By John M. Coluccy, Ph.D., and Kassondra Hendricks.

Understanding Waterfowl: Brood Ecology

A closer look at the amazing journey ducklings make from fuzzballs to fledglings. By Johann Walker, Ph.D.

Waterfowler's Notebook: Anatomy of a Duck Call

It's not a stretch to compare a duck call to a traditional woodwind instrument such as a saxophone or clarinet. Musicians play these instruments by forcing air through a mouthpiece and across a reed, which vibrates to produce sound. Duck calls work in much the same way.

Understanding Waterfowl: Duck Salad

Judging by the title, you might assume that this column is about how to prepare a healthy duck dinner for your family and friends. But, of course, that is wild game chef Scott Leysath's department. This column is about another type of duck salad—aquatic vegetation, on which many ducks thrive.

Understanding Waterfowl: Courtship and Pair Bonding

For waterfowl, timing is everything when selecting a mate. By Mike Brasher, Ph.D.

Understanding Waterfowl: Cross-Seasonal Effects

Habitat conditions on migration and wintering areas may influence waterfowl breeding potential the following spring. By J. Dale James, Ph.D.

Understanding Waterfowl: Fat Is Fit

Gaining weight is a good thing for waterfowl during fall and winter. By John M. Coluccy, Ph.D., and Jessica B. Ruthenberg.

Understanding Waterfowl: Tracking the Mallard Migration

Research has provided a wealth of new information about mallard movements and habitat preferences. By Luke Naylor and Andrew Raedeke, Ph.D.

Understanding Waterfowl: Drakes and Ganders

A closer look at the fascinating mating strategies of male ducks and geese

Understanding Waterfowl: Seasonal Wetlands and Breeding Ducks

These small, shallow-flooded basins are vital to waterfowl production on the prairies

Understanding Waterfowl: Stopover Country

Wetlands and rivers in America's heartland provide vital migration habitat for millions of waterfowl

Understanding Waterfowl: Mallards and Their Relatives

Widely distributed across North America, Asia, and Europe, the mallard is the most abundant duck in the northern hemisphere. Mallards are successful because they are adaptable, which allows them to exploit diverse habitats and resources. Mallards are also one of the most prolific breeders in the waterfowl world. In some cases, hen mallards have been observed making up to six nesting attempts in a single breeding season.

Understanding Waterfowl: Story of the Giants

A closer look at the remarkable comeback of the giant Canada goose

Understanding Waterfowl: Drought and Deluge

We can't control the weather, but conserving wetlands and grasslands on the prairies will help ensure the long-term health of duck populations

Understanding Waterfowl: The Amazing Molt

Waterfowl replace all of their feathers with new plumage at least once a year

Understanding Waterfowl: The Blue-Winged Ducks

Northern shovelers and blue-winged and cinnamon teal are among the most closely related of North America's ducks

Understanding Waterfowl: The Amazing World of Macroinvertebrates

You don't have to journey to a faraway galaxy to see an amazing world inhabited by "brain-jacking" parasites and monsters with extendable lower lips that can reach out and snatch unsuspecting prey.

Understanding Waterfowl: Duck Digestion

Understanding why and when certain foods are good for waterfowl and how they are digested is an interesting and somewhat complex subject.

Story of Survival

As a waterfowl biologist, I am often asked how long ducks and geese live. Well, it all depends.

Finding the Way

Waterfowl have amazing navigational abilities that guide their migrations

Waterfowl Feeding Adaptations

Ducks and geese are well equipped to find food in a variety of habitats

Understanding Waterfowl: Ways of the Wigeon

These fascinating ducks have many characteristics and behaviors that set them apart

Understanding Waterfowl: Tracking the Black Duck

DU research sheds new light on this prized bird's migration habits

Understanding Waterfowl: Waterfowl Feathers

Feathers are indeed among the defining characteristics of waterfowl and other birds. Birds, in fact, are the only animals that have feathers. And while feathers have many specialized functions, their most important jobs are to protect birds from the elements and to enable flight. In bitter cold, wintry conditions feathers are a duck's first line of defense.

Waterfowl Diseases

Ducks and geese suffer a variety of illnesses that are seldom evident to people

Waterfowl Research Articles

The following articles were previously featured in the "Understanding Waterfowl" column of the Ducks Unlimited Magazine.

Summer's End

After the breeding season, ducks must molt and must build energy reserves in time for fall migration.

Danger From Above

Raptors are common predators of waterfowl in many areas of North America.

Duckling Survival

A variety of factors influence how many young ducks fly south each fall.

Waterfowl Mating Systems II

How ducks and geese select their mates and maintain pair bonds varies among species.

Waterfowl Sex Ratios

A variety of factors influence the proportion of males and females in waterfowl populations.

Diving Ducks: Into the Deep

Diving ducks are perfectly designed for feeding in deep-water habitats.

Life in the Egg

A look at the incubation process and the amazing transformation that occurs within each egg.

Nest Site Selection

Selecting a nest site is an important decision in the annual cycle of ducks. Nest site choice can influence whether the female survives the nesting season and her eggs survive to hatch.

Waterfowl Energy Demands

Ducks need an abundance of carbohydrate-rich food to meet their needs during migration and winter.

Nature or Nurture

Both instinct and learning play important roles in shaping waterfowl behavior.

Stay Off My Pond

Gregarious throughout much of the year, waterfowl seek isolation during the breeding season.

Flying Machines

Like high-performance aircraft, waterfowl are built to fly.

Webbed Wonders

Waterfowl use their feet for much more than just standing and swimming.

Birds of a Feather

Plumage colors result from pigments and from the structure and reflective properties of feathers.

Waterfowl CSI

Isotope analysis is helping researchers solve waterfowl mysteries.

Getting Ready for the Migration

After the breeding season, ducks must molt and must build energy reserves in time for fall migration.

The Incubation Period

For female waterfowl, hatching a nest requires a big investment of time and energy.

The Salt Marsh Sovereig

New research is looking at the food and habitat resources that must be in place for wintering black ducks to thrive.

Wings in Action

Differences in wing size and shape determine the flight capabilities of waterfowl.

Waterfowl Hybrids

Crossbreeding produces rare and interesting birds but also threatens the survival of some species.

Dressed for Success

A drake’s bright colors and a hen’s dull plumage both play crucial roles in breeding.

Extrapair Paternity

Many waterfowl broods include offspring from more than one male.

Fueling the Engines

Natural selection dictates that the fittest individuals (i.e., those best at survival and reproduction) dominate the population, while those less adept at making a living contribute less to the gene pool, or are eventually eliminated altogether. Fundamental to this concept is the notion that the physical and behavioral attributes of the animals we see today are well matched to the environmental challenges they face.

How Ducks Navigate

Birds use several visual and nonvisual orientation mechanisms to navigate. Some of the visual cues include the sun, polarized light, the stars, and even landmarks.

Birds of a Feather

Waterfowl rely on their feathers for much more than flying.

Waterfowl Renesting

For many species of ducks, persistence is crucial to reproductive success.

The Curious Lives of Sea Ducks

The breeding and feeding habits of these remarkable maritime birds differ greatly from those of dabbling ducks.

Pintails: A Love-Hate Relationship with Spring Wetlands

Upon arriving in the prairie pothole country in early spring, pintails find a cold and often frozen landscape. To pintails, the spring thaw can provide a virtual paradise of spring wetlands, or a dry, barren desert.

Waterfowl Vocalizations

Interpreting their odd assortment of whistles, grunts, quacks, honks, coos, clucks, and trills

Waterfowl Mating Systems

Some species pair for life, whereas others invest a lot of time forming new pair bonds each year—an activity that at first glance would seem too costly and time consuming.

Whistling Ducks

There are eight species of whistling ducks in the world, but only two-the black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks-occur in the United States.

Waterfowl Research & Science

Learn more about waterfowl biology, research, identification and much more! You'll also find links to the popular "Understanding Waterfowl" features seen in past issues of DU Magazine.

Parental Care

Early life for young waterfowl can range from surviving in a single-parent family to living a bird’s version of an Ozzie and Harriet-style childhood.

Ducklings and Goslings

Young waterfowl face many challenges but are amazingly well-adapted to their new environment.

Banding Together

Band recoveries reported by hunters are an essential source of information for waterfowl managers.

The Scoop on Duck Bills

These specialized feeding tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Trials of the Tundra

Once Arctic-nesting geese reach their breeding grounds, they are in a race against time.

Free DU Decal

Receive a free DU decal when you signup for our free monthly newsletter.