Because habitat degradation has led to the loss of submerged vegetation in Chesapeake Bay, wintering canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) have shifted from a plant diet of American wildcelery (Vallisneria americana) to an animal diet of Baltic clams (Macoma balthica). We conducted experiments with pen-reared canvasbacks (n = 32, 1990; n = 32, 1991) to assess the effect of this diet change on mass recovery rate following a simulated period of food deprivation. During the recovery phase, canvasbacks were fed ad libitum either (1) Baltic clams (1991 only), (2) tubers of wildcelery, 3) corn, or (4) commercial control diet. Initial body mass of ducks did not differ between years (P = 0.754) or among pens (P > 0.264) or diets within years (1990, P = 0.520; 1991, P = 0.684). Body mass decline during food deprivation (x super(-) = 26.0 g/day plus or minus 0.6 SE) did not differ among diets (1990, P = 0.239; 1991, P = 0.062) or between sexes in 1990 (P = 0.197), but was greater (P = 0.039) for males (x super(-) = 28 g/day plus or minus 0.8 SE) than females (x super(-) = 25 g/day plus or minus 0.9) in 1991. Mass recovery rate differed between diets (clams excluded) in 1990 (P = 0.003) and 1991 (clams included) (P = 0.011); mean = 42 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) plus or minus 3.8 (SE) control diet, mean = 32 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) plus or minus 2.8 wildcelery tubers, mean = 24 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) plus or minus 4.9 whole corn, and mean = 23 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) plus or minus 1.0 Baltic clams. Canvasbacks consumed an average of 2,169 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) of Baltic clams, 1,158 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) of wildcelery tubers, 152 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) whole corn, and 208 g/bird super(-1)/day super(-1) (dry mass) control diet during recovery. Managers should restore and maintain aquatic plant foods that enhance winter survival of canvasbacks and other waterfowl in response to declining habitat quality.
Additional publication details
Effects of diet on rate of body mass gain by wintering canvasbacks