Long-term trends of waterfowl populations in Chesapeake Bay demonstrate the importance of shallow-water habitats for waterfowl species. Although recent increases in field feeding by geese and swans lessened the importance of shallow-water areas for these species, most duck species depend almost exclusively on shallow-water habitats. Many factors influenced the distribution and abundance of waterfowl in shallow-water habitats. Habitat degradation resulted in the decline in numbers of most duck species and a change in distribution of some species. Increased numbers of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in recent decades probably resulted from release programs conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and private individuals. Studies of food habits since 1885 showed a decline in submerged-aquatic vegetation in the diet of some species, such as the canvasback (Aythya valisineria ), and an increase in the proportions of invertebrates in the diet. Diversity of food organisms for many waterfowl species has declined. Surveys of vegetation and invertebrates in the Chesapeake Bay generally reflect a degradation of shallow-water habitat. Human population increases in the Chesapeake Bay watershed directly and indirectly affected waterfowl distribution and abundance. The increase of exotic plant and invertebrate species in the bay, in most cases, benefited waterfowl populations. Increased contaminants have reduced the quality and quantity of habitat, although serious attempts to reverse this trend are underway. The use of shallow-water habitats by humans for fishing, hunting, boating, and other recreational and commercial uses reduced the use of shallow-water habitats by waterfowl. Humans can lessen the adverse influences on the valuable shallow-water habitats by restricting human population growth near these habitats and improving the water quality of the bay tributaries. Other affirmative actions that will improve these areas for waterfowl include greater restrictions on boat traffic in shallow-water habitats and establishing more sanctuaries in shallow-water areas that have complete protection from human disturbance.
Additional publication details
Review of factors affecting the distribution and abundance of waterfowl in shallow-water habitats of Chesapeake Bay