Do captive waterfowl alter their behaviour patterns during their flightless period of moult?
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Many different behavioural changes have been observed in wild waterfowl during the flightless stage of wing moult with birds frequently becoming inactive and reducing time spent foraging. Increased predation risk, elevated energetic demands of feather re-growth and restriction of foraging opportunities are thought to underlie these changes. By studying captive populations of both a dabbling and a diving duck species at the same site, we determined whether captive birds would reflect the behavioural responses of wild waterfowl to moult. The time-budgets of 42 Common Eiders, Somateria mollissima, (a diving duck) and 18 Garganeys, Anas querquedula, (a dabbling duck) were recorded during wing moult (July–August) and non-moult (January) with behaviour recorded under six categories. Despite captivity providing a low predation risk and constant access to food, birds altered their behaviour during the flightless period of wing moult. Time allocated to foraging and locomotion decreased significantly during moult compared to non-moult periods, while resting time increased significantly. Moulting Eiders underwent a greater reduction in time spent foraging and in locomotion compared with Garganeys, which is likely to be in response to a higher energetic cost of foraging in Eiders. It is possible that increased resting in both diving and dabbling ducks reduces their likelihood of detection by predators, while allowing them to remain vigilant. We demonstrate that there is much potential for using captive animals in studies that can augment our knowledge of behaviours of free-living conspecifics, the former being a hitherto under-exploited resource.
KeywordsBehaviour Captivity Common Eider Dabbling duck Diving duck Garganey Moult
We are very grateful to the staff, particularly Dr Ruth Cromie, and keepers at the WWT, Slimbridge, for allowing the study to be conducted, and to Louise Barrett, Diego Gill, Jon Green and Susannah Thorpe for reading earlier drafts of the manuscript. Thanks to Lewis Halsey, Peter Shaw and Craig White for statistical advice. We are also grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript. Funding for the work was provided by the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham.
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