Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 188, Issue 5, pp 831–842 | Cite as

Monitoring responses to variation in food supply for a migratory waterfowl: American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) in winter

  • Perry S. BarbozaEmail author
  • Dennis G. Jorde
Original Paper


Wintering Black Ducks (Anas rubripes) concentrate in wetlands along the Atlantic coast where natural and anthropogenic disturbances have increased over the last 50 years, a period in which the population of Black Ducks has declined. We studied the sensitivity of Black Ducks to perturbations in food supply that often result from disturbances by storms, predators, and people. In the paper, we characterize the responses of captive Black Ducks to shifts in food quality and availability during winter and apply those measures to a comparison of wild birds. Captive ducks that were fed intermittently (3 consecutive days/week) compensated for fasted days to achieve similar body mass and body fat to control birds that were fed every day on both animal- and plant-based diets. However, birds that were fed intermittently expended 15% more energy each day than controls when both groups were fed (536 vs. 464 kJ/kg0.75), which indicates that variable food supply increases the costs of maintenance and thus reduces the number of birds that can be supported on the same resource of food without interruptions to foraging. Egg production was not affected by diet quality provided in spring or by the frequency of feeding during the preceding winter months. Black Ducks lost body fat through winter in captivity and in the wild. Fat stores of birds in New Jersey were greater than those of birds in Maine (13.3 vs. 8.3% of body mass) in January, which reflected the high energy demands of cold temperatures in Maine. Values for ∂15N were greater in Maine than in New Jersey for both red blood cells and plasma, which indicated a consistent diet of marine invertebrates in Maine. Greater isotopic variation in red blood cells indicated that diets were more diverse in New Jersey than in Maine for both ∂15N (9.7 ± 1.1 vs. 11.2 ± 0.4‰) and for ∂13C (− 15.1 ± 2.2 vs. − 13.8 ± 1.4‰). Plasma ∂13C was enriched over red blood cells in wild birds especially those with low fat stores, which suggested birds with low energy stores were shifting diets. Black Ducks can compensate for disturbances in feeding by increasing intakes if they have access to high quality wetlands where they are able to find abundant food. High energy demands at cold temperatures may constrain fat stores and thus the tolerance of feeding disturbances especially at the northern limits of the winter range. We hypothesize that decreasing variation in diet may indicate an increase in vulnerability to disturbance in winter when body fat is low. Recent efforts to assess and improve habitat quality of Black Ducks could be enhanced by monitoring the body composition and diet of birds to assess their vulnerability to disturbances in food supply and energy demands.


Body composition Doubly labeled water Stable isotope Waterfowl 



Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The research was supported by funds from the US Geological Survey to DGJ and from the Institute of Arctic Biology to PSB. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Bruce Williams and Phil Pendergast for maintenance of facilities. Patricia Fontaine, Matthew Kinloch, Carolee Mellon and the Crane Crew assisted with animal care. Dr. Glenn Olsen assisted with veterinary protocols. Chemical analyses were performed with the assistance of Richard Kedrowski and Naya Brangenberg. We gratefully thank and acknowledge the field and lab assistance provided by David Jachowski (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Student Volunteer and currently Assistant Professor at Clemson University) who accompanied DGJ throughout the conduct of the field study, and the following biologists and environmental specialists who assisted with trapping Black Ducks and/or collection of samples in field labs. In New Jersey, Daniel Stotts, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD; Steve Atzert, FWS Refuge Manager, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Oceanville, NJ; Paul Castelli, New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, Millville, NJ; and Lee Widjeskog, New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, Millville, NJ. In Maine, Jerry Longcore and Daniel McAuley, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Orono, ME; Mr David Schick (USFWS Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge); Brad Allen, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Bangor, ME; Robert Goodwin and Hannah Smith, Water Quality Laboratory, Department of Marine Resources, Ellsworth, ME.

Supplementary material

360_2018_1163_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (164 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 163 KB)
360_2018_1163_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (84 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 84 KB)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply  2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Department of Wildlife and Fisheries SciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.US Geological SurveyPatuxent Wildlife Research CenterLaurelUSA

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