We obtained esophageal food samples from 311 mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and 94 wood ducks (Aix sponsa) and body weights from 2,118 mallards and 315 wood ducks in western Mississippi during December and January 1979-83. On average, mallards ingested 3.0% animal food, principally aquatic invertebrates, and 97.0% plant food. Rice, soybeans, and seeds of 'moist soil' plants provided 41.3, 41.6, and 10-11% of the total food intake. Wood ducks ingested nearly 100% plant food, of which 23.4% was soybeans and 74.3% was acorns from Nuttall (Quercus nuttallii), water (Q. nigra), and willow oaks (Q. phellos). Mallard food use varied with water conditions; the use of rice decreased and soybeans increased during 1980-81 when cumulative November-January precipitation was < 50% of normal. Wood duck food use varied with habitat; the diet included more acorns at sites having larger acreages of intact bottomland hardwood forest. Mallard and wood duck body weights varied within and among winters. Mallard weights decreased by about 2% from December to January each year. We considered this a regulated loss, whereas we attributed increases and decreases of 4-5% in average weights during wet and dry winters to changes in feeding opportunities associated with winter precipitation. Wood duck weights followed similar trends. We concluded that continued drainage in the Mississippi Delta will adversely affect waterfowl foraging opportunities, and that research on winter feeding ecology will progress more rapidly if we develop an understanding of the foraging efficiencies associated with alternate food resources.
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Mid-winter food use and body weights of mallards and wood ducks in Mississippi