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The Chesapeake Bay is a primary wintering area for scoters and the long-tailed ducks (Clangia hyemalis) that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Recently, the Chesapeake Bay had undergone an ecosystem shift and little is known about how this is affecting the seaduck populations. We are determining what are the preferred food sources of the seaducks wintering on the Bay and analyzing the factors influencing prey selection whether it is prey composition, energy assimilated, prey availability, or a combination of any or all of these factors. We have established a captive colony of surf (Melanitta perspicillata) and white-winged scoters (Melanitta fusca) as well as long-tailed ducks at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to allow us to examine these factors in a more controlled environment. This project contains a multitude of experiments and the resultant data will be compiled into a compartmental model on the feeding ecology of seaducks wintering on the Bay. The first experiment entailed feeding groups of each species (four ducks per pen of equal sex ratio, if possible, and four pens per species) three diets varying in percent protein levels from November to February. Each diet was randomly assigned to each pen and the amount of food consumed was recorded each day. New feed was given when all existing food was consumed. Behavioral trials and blood profiles were completed on all study birds to determine the effects of the varying diets. There were no significant differences in food consumption, blood chemistry, and behavior detected at the 5% level among the diets for all three species of interest. There was a seasonal effect determined based on the food consumption data for white-winged scoters, but not for surf scoters or long-tailed ducks. The blood profiles of the surf scoters were compared to blood profiles of wild surf scoters and a there was no difference detected at the 5% level. As a health check of the ducks an aspergillosis test was run on the blood obtained during the experiment and it was found that surf scoters are more resistant to the disease than the other species. In the next two winters natural prey items available to seaducks wintering in the Chesapeake Bay will be offered on palettes to examine preference without the additional energetic costs of diving. Assimilation efficiency trials will be run on all three species to determine amount of energy the ducks obtain from each food source. Finally, using two large aquariums, prey preference will be analyzed with the additional energetic costs of diving and searching for prey. In addition, we will determine the effect of availability of a prey item on the prey selection of seaducks. We hope the model created from these experiments will allow managers to examine the effects of changes in the benthos on the seaduck populations wintering in the Chesapeake Bay.
Additional Publication Details
The effect of varying protein levels on blood chemistry, food consumption, and behavior of captive seaducks