Field-collected and hunter-donated ducks obtained during September-January of 1997-98 and 1998-99 were used to determine if food habits and body mass of Northern Pintails (Anas acuta) and Mallards (A. platyrhynchos) wintering in Suisun Marsh (Suisun), California, a managed estuarine brackish marsh, differed from values in the adjacent Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta), a freshwater region of grain fields flooded after harvest. Ducks in Suisun fed primarily on seeds of Sea Purslane (Sesuvium verrucosum), followed by Alkali Bulrush (Schoenoplectus maritimus) and Wild Millet (Echinochloa crusgalli), together forming 73-90% (aggregate % dry mass) of the diets. Ducks in the Delta fed primarily on seeds of Smartweed (Polygonum spp.), followed by corn (Zea mays) and tomato seeds (Lycopersicon esculentum), together forming 62-88% of the diets. Pintails and Mallards collected in Suisun each had similar (5 of 11 seasonal comparisons) or greater (6 of the 11 comparisons) body mass compared to their conspecifics collected from the Delta (90% confidence interval analyses), despite a composite diet in the Delta having about 39% greater metabolizable energy content (ME) and 24% greater protein content than in Suisun. Therefore, diet quality alone was not a predictor of body mass in these two areas. Other factors must have been involved, such as greater food abundance and density, lower waterfowl abundance and density, or lower daily energy costs in Suisun. Direct measurement of these factors should explain the apparent inconsistencies in body mass relative to food quality in these brackish and freshwater habitats.
Additional publication details
Diet and body mass of wintering ducks in adjacent brackish and freshwater habitats