We conducted feeding experiments with captive, wild-strain wood ducks (Aix sponsa) during winters 1990-91 and 1991-92 to test effects of increasing levels of food restriction on body mass dynamics, mortality, and pair formation. Male and female wood ducks fed restricted diets (i.e., 5, 10, 15, or 20% less food [g] than consumed on the previous day by a control group fed ad libitum) weighed less (P ??? 0.037) than birds fed ad libitum; those on 15 and 20% restricted diets weighed least. Increased mortality and decreased pair formation occurred only within the 20% restricted group (P ??? 0.049). We concluded that food restriction ranging between 15 and 20% of ad libitum intake may signify a threshold above which survival and reproduction of captive wood ducks may be impaired. Because energy costs of free living are greater than in captivity, a lower threshold may exist for wild wood ducks. Research is needed to validate the threshold theory for free-ranging wood ducks and other waterfowl, and to evaluate its potential application for conservation of winter foraging habitat. Conservation of bottomland hardwood ecosystems, which provide important foraging habitat for migrating and wintering wood ducks, should be encouraged to prevent potential negative effects on wood duck life-cycle events.
Additional publication details
Body-mass, survival, and pairing consequences of winter-diet restriction in wood ducks