Requests to increase military aircraft activity in some training facilities in the United States have raised the need to determine if waterfowl and other wildlife are adversely affected by aircraft disturbance. We hypothesized that habituation was a possible proximate factor influencing the low proportion of free-ranging ducks reacting to military aircraft activities in a training range in coastal North Carolina during winters 1991 and 1992. To test this hypothesis, we subjected captive, wild-strain American black ducks (Anas rubripes) and wood ducks (Aix sponsa) to actual and simulated activities of jet aircraft. In the first experiment, we placed black ducks in an enclosure near the center of aircraft activities on Piney Island, a military aircraft target range in coastal North Carolina. The proportion of times black ducks reacted (e.g., alert posture, fleeing response) to visual and auditory aircraft activity decreased from 38 to 6% during the first 17 days of confinement. Response rates remained stable at 5.8% thereafter. In the second experiment, black ducks and wood ducks were exposed to 6 different recordings of jet noise. The proportion of times black ducks reacted to noise decreased (P < 0.05) from first day of exposure (25%) to last (i.e., day 4; 8%). Except for a 2% difference in comfort, we detected no differences (P > 0.05) in time-activity budgets of black ducks between pre-exposure to noise and 24 hr after first exposure. Unlike black ducks, wood duck responses to jet noise did not decrease uniformly among experimental groups following initial exposure to noise (P = 0.01). We conclude that initial exposure to aircraft noise elicits behavioral responses from black ducks and wood ducks. With continued exposure of aircraft noise, black ducks may become habituated. However, wood ducks did not exhibit the same pattern of response, suggesting that the ability of waterfowl to habituate to aircraft noise may be species specific.
Additional publication details
Do black ducks and wood ducks habituate to aircraft disturbance?