Ducks follow ancient pathways from their breeding grounds to wintering areas. Each fall, millions of ducks migrate south to warmer regions in search of food and habitat. We don’t know for certain how ducks navigate during migration, but scientists believe the birds take cues from the position of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky; geographic landmarks like rivers and mountains; and magnetic fields invisible to the human eye. Banding research helped waterfowl managers map the major migration corridors followed by ducks, which are known today as flyways. North America is divided into four flyways—the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific.<br />
Stretching from the Arctic tundra of Baffin Island to the Caribbean, the Atlantic Flyway spans more than 3,000 miles. The easternmost flyway is composed of the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia; the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec; and the territory of Nunavut. The Atlantic is the most densely populated of the four flyways. <br />
The Atlantic flyway is known as a migration path for dozens of species of ducks. The following list includes some of the more common ducks found along the flyway:Mallard DuckBlack DuckGreen-winged TealAmerican WidgeonGadwallPintailGreater ScaupRedheadRing-necked DuckRuddy DuckBuffleheadLesser ScaupShovelerCommon GoldeneyeCommon MerganserHooded MerganserRed-breasted merganserOld SquawBlack ScoterWhite-winged ScoterSurf Scoter<br />
The Prairie Pothole Region is the core of what was once the largest expanse of grassland in the world, the Great Plains of North America. When the glaciers from the last ice age receded, they left behind millions of shallow depressions that are now wetlands, known as prairie potholes. The potholes are rich in plant and aquatic life, and support significant populations of breeding waterfowl. The Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region are number one on the twenty five most important waterfowl habitats on the continent.<br />
Importance to waterfowl<br />Millions of ducks pass through the PPR each spring, nesting in the grasslands. <br />Nest success and hen mortality during breeding are the most important factors responsible for change in mid-continent duck populations. <br />The PPR provides important breeding habitat for pintails, mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, shovelers, canvasbacks, redheads and many more species of ducks. <br />
Waterfowl Life Cycle<br />In the course of one year a duck experiences all the seasonal changes that presents many opportunities and challenges. <br />
Brood RearingThe more time a hen spends taking care of young ducklings, the less time she has to take care of herself. This precious balance must be met to maximize both the hen's and ducklings' chances of survival. To keep ducklings healthy a hen must brood or keep ducklings warm until they can do it themselves, help ducklings find a good source of food, ensure family bonding as a unit and finally, guide young ducks during migration and help them locate staging and wintering habitat.The most important time in a duckling's life is the first two weeks of life. This is when the hen must put in the most energy to keep her ducklings together and safe. A hen's chance of suffering from death increases when she is defending her ducklings<br />Post Breeding <br />Ducks are required to find energy sources to fuel the activities of raising a brood, keeping themselves healthy and re-growing feathers during molt. These energy-expending activities take place during the post breeding period.Scientist speculate that the reason for there being more drake (male) ducks than female's (hens) in the population is the result of the higher deaths that occur to hens during the post breeding period.During the post breeding period ducks can experience nutritional stress. Nutritional stress is a situation where nutrients demanded by the body exceeds the amount of nutrients a duck is able to find and eat.Protein nutrients are extremely important, especially amino acids, the building blocks of life. Waterfowl select specific foods high in proteins, like bugs, solely because of their nutritional value. The post breeding period coincides with the time of year when insects are most numerous<br />
Molting<br />Molting is the process of replacing worn feathers. Ducks molt in the late summer and in the early spring.During the fall ducks molt synchronously, or lose and replace all of their feathers in a short period of time. Synchronous molting causes ducks to not be able to fly during a portion of this time putting them at a great risk to predators until the new feathers come in. Losing and replacing all of their feathers can take up to two weeks. The new feathers are drab in color and considered a duck's basic plumage. In the early spring just as the breeding season gets underway a partial loss of feathers happens when the male ducks put on their alternate plumage.Feathers are largely made up of proteins and accounts for almost one-third of all protein in the body. The need for large quantities of high protein food is one reason that male ducks and unsuccessful nesting hens leave the breeding grounds for special molting grounds far away, reducing competition for limited protein resources<br />
Fall Migration <br />Ducks migrate long distances from wintering grounds to breeding areas and back again to the wintering grounds with visual and non-visual cues. Visual cues that ducks use include the sun, polarized light, stars, and even landmarks. Ducks use the axes of polarized light to determine the position of the sun and perform sun compass orientation. Navigation at night requires migrants to use stars to orient their direction. Experiments performed in planetariums have shown scientists that some ducks actually use a stellar map to find their way around in the night. Landmarks may be important for navigation, not as compasses, but as directional cues. Coastlines, mountain ridges and waterways such as the Mississippi River are major topographic features that may be considered landmarks.One non-visual cue in navigation is the Earth's magnetic field. When the Earth's magnetic field is obstructed migrating birds often change or alternate direction and altitude. Homing, another non-visual cue, is a ducks ability to find its way home when released in an unfamiliar place or direction. The ability to navigate over many miles from breeding to wintering grounds is truly a great adaptation. <br />
Wintering<br />Ducks spend much of their time in the southern portions of the United States and along the coastal fringes where weather conditions are mild. They leave northern nesting areas and head for a warmer climate for several reasons, least of which is because the weather is cold.During much of the winter ducks loaf about eating and storing up nutrients in preparation for the long trip back to the breeding grounds.Waterfowl can withstand very cold temperatures, but when their food source is eliminated they must leave northern areas in search of mild temperatures. When shallow ponds or lakes freeze over with ice ducks can no longer reach aquatic plants and insects for meals. Ducks that feed on seeds or waste grain must also leave the area when snow falls cover their foods.Ducks winter in mild areas where food is plentiful and the water rarely freezes. <br />
PrenestingThe female duck always makes the choice for the breeding area because she is homing to the site of her birth or a site where she successfully hatched a nest. <br />
Wintering Grounds for the Atlantic Flyway <br />
Winter Habitat Needs <br />By the middle of December, most waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway have reached their wintering grounds across the southern half of the United States. The most important biological need of wintering ducks is food. Wintering areas offer a diversity of habitats that ducks use to meet their food or energy needs, including moist-soil emergent wetlands, forested wetlands, coastal marshes with beds of submerged aquatic vegetation, and flooded agricultural fields. <br />Habitat needs vary over winter by species and location. Daily energy demands differ by species, but a typical mallard-sized duck generally requires about 290 kilocalories of food per day throughout winter. Wintering waterfowl congregate in areas with an abundance of foods that will provide them with the energy they need to survive. Ducks also begin the courtship process and often select mates while still on the wintering grounds.<br />
Every year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and agencies ran by the states, place leg bands on a variety of ducks across the country. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service uses data reported from leg bands to track the flight paths of these migratory birds. Bands are also useful in determining harvest information and life span of specific duck species. Each band has a unique number that identifies the species of duck which is tied to the life history. Roughly 3.1 million leg bands have been reported to date. That is pretty small considering that since 1904 about 58 million birds have been banded in North America.<br />
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