I compared nesting intervals during three consecutive years in five species of temperate-nesting dabbling ducks (Mallard [Anas platyrhynchos], Northern Pintail [Anas acuta], Northern Shoveler [Anas clypeata], Blue-winged Teal [Anas discors], Gadwall [Anas strepera]) and assessed whether differences existed in timing of refractoriness. Most nesting by females of all five species ended by the summer solstice. Nesting ended earliest for Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails and latest for Gadwalls. Some Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and Gadwalls continued to nest into mid- and late summer, whereas Northern Shovelers and Northern pintails did not. Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and Gadwalls accounted for 99% (81 of 82) of flightless broods resulting from nests initiated during mid- or late summer in North Dakota and 98% (58 of 59) of flightless juveniles shot on or after 1 October by a random sample of duck hunters from across the United States. Early cessation of breeding by Northern Shovelers may have evolved in response to the species' limited flexibility in diet. Photorefractory mechanisms that limit most breeding to spring presumably evolved in response to severe constraints on reproductive success when nesting continued through summer(e.g. mortality of late-hatched young and molting females due to low temperatures). Interspecific differences in photosensitivity may account for variation in timing of cessation of nesting in late spring, but controlled experiments are needed to assess the possible role of non-photic influences. My results suggest that the refractory mechanisms controlling length of the breeding in temperate-nesting dabbling ducks are more varied and complex than previously thought, with non-photic influences (e.g. water conditions, food availability, food quality) having a larger role than indicated by earlier research.
Additional publication details
Temporal flexibility of reproduction in temperate-breeding dabbling ducks