Context. Effective wildlife management requires information on habitat and resource needs, which can be estimated with movement information and modelling energetics. One necessary component of avian models is flight speeds at multiple temporal scales. Technology has limited the ability to accurately assess flight speeds, leading to estimates of questionable accuracy, many of which have not been updated in almost a century.
Aims. We aimed to update flight speeds of ducks, and differentiate between migratory and non-migratory flight speeds, a detail that was unclear in previous estimates. We also analysed the difference in speeds of migratory and non-migratory flights, and quantified how data collected at different temporal intervals affected estimates of flight speed.
Methods. We tracked six California dabbling duck species with high spatio-temporal resolution GPS–GSM transmitters, calculated speeds of different flight types, and modelled how estimates varied by flight and data interval (30 min to 6 h).
Key results. Median migratory speeds were faster (but non-significant) for the larger mallard (Anas platyrhynchos; 82.5 km h–1), northern pintail (Anas acuta; 79.0 km h–1) and gadwall (Mareca strepera; 70.6 km h–1), than the smaller-bodied northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata; 65.7 km h–1), cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera; 63.5 km h–1) and American wigeon (Mareca Americana; 52 km h–1). Migratory flights were faster than non-migratory flights for all species and speeds were consistently slower with an increasing data interval.
Implications. The need to balance time and energy requirements may drive different speeds for migratory and non-migratory flights. Lower speeds at longer intervals are likely to be due to a greater proportion of ‘loafing’ time included in flighted segments, demonstrating that data acquired at different intervals provide a means to evaluate and estimate behaviours that influence speed estimation. Shorter-interval data should be the most accurate, but longer-interval data may be easier to collect over lengthier timeframes, so it may be expedient to trade-off a degree of accuracy in broad-scale studies for the larger dataset. Our updated flight speeds for dabbling duck species can be used to parameterise and validate energetics models, guide management decisions regarding optimal habitat distribution, and, ultimately, improve conservation management of wetlands for waterfowl.