Lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) populations have been declining since the late 1970s. One of the explanations to account for this decline, the spring-condition hypothesis (SCH), is based on the premise that scaup are limited by their ability to acquire or maintain nutrient reserves during migration to the breeding grounds, leading to an impairment of their reproductive potential. Available evidence suggests that endogenous reserves required for reproduction are obtained at a later stage of migration or after arrival at the breeding grounds, not wintering sites. However, only one study has addressed body-condition levels on a southern wintering site in the last decade, with results limited to the wintering grounds on the Mississippi Flyway. We documented foraging behavior, nutrient levels, and body mass of lesser scaup in east-central Florida, USA, where 62% of the Atlantic Flyway population overwinters, during the winters of 2002 and 2003. Diurnal foraging did not increase seasonally. Nocturnal foraging increased seasonally by 76% or 43 minutes per night in females and by 478% or 1.9 hours per night in males. Measures of body condition did not change seasonally during 2002 for either sex. Between early and later winter in 2003 corrected body mass (CBM) and lipid reserves of male scaup increased 77 g and 39 g, respectively. Our results suggest that lesser scaup maintain or may slightly improve their physiological condition in east-central Florida during winter. Lower body mass and differences in nutrient levels in east-central Florida, compared to a wintering site in Louisiana, likely stem from geographic variation and lower thermal requirements associated with the warmer Florida environment. Lesser scaup depart Florida with sufficient reserves to initiate spring migration, but they maximize nutrient reserves used during reproduction elsewhere during migration or on the breeding grounds. These results suggest that maintaining the ecological integrity of this wintering ground is critical in minimizing winter mortality and preventing it from becoming an ancillary factor in current declines. Future research should address understanding survival rates during spring migration and at critical staging areas to provide new insight into the ramifications of scaup leaving wintering habitats such as MINWR with lower body condition than at other wintering sites in other flyways.
Additional publication details
Lesser scaup winter foraging and nutrient reserve acquisition in east-central Florida