Population and trophic relationships among diving ducks in Chesapeake Bay are diverse and complex as they include five species of bay ducks (Aythya spp.), nine species of seaducks (Tribe Mergini), and the Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). Here we considered the relationships between population changes and diet over the past half century to assess the importance of prey changes to wintering waterfowl in the Bay. Food habits of 643 diving ducks collected from Chesapeake Bay during 1999-2006 were determined by analyses of their gullet (esophagus and proventriculus) and gizzard contents and compared to historical data (1885-1979) of 1,541 diving ducks. Aerial waterfowl surveys, in general, suggest that six species of seaducks were more commonly located in the meso- to polyhaline areas of the Bay, whereas five species of bay ducks and Ruddy Ducks were in the oligo- to mesohaline areas. Seaducks fed on a molluscan diet of Hooked Mussel (Ischadium recurvum), Amethyst Gemclam (Gemma gemma), and Dwarf Surfclarn (Mulinia lateralis). Bay ducks and Ruddy Ducks fed more on Baltic Macoma (Macoma balthica), the adventive Atlantic Rangia (Rangia cuneata), and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Mergansers were found over the widest salinity range in the Bay, probably because of their piscivorous diet. Each diving duck species appears to fill a unique foraging niche, although there is much overlap of selected prey. When current food habits are compared to historic data, only the Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) has had major diet changes, although SAV now accounts for less food volume for all diving duck species, except the Redhead (Aythya americana). Understanding the trophic-habitat relationships of diving ducks in coastal wintering areas will give managers a better understanding of the ecological effects of future environmental changes. Intensive restoration efforts on SAV and oyster beds should greatly benefit diving duck populations.
Additional publication details
Temporal changes of populations and trophic relationships of wintering diving ducks in Chesapeake Bay