Papers in the Biological Sciences


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It was with a considerable degree of hesitation that, during the winter of 1970-71, I sat down and contemplated the scope and structure of a possible book on the waterfowl of North America. On my bookshelf behind me were copies of A. C. Bent's Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl, F. H. Kortright's The Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, and Jean Delacour's The Waterfowl of the World. My task, as I saw it, was to try to develop a book that might be useful to the greatest number of people without seriously overlapping with any of these great works. Bent's classic volumes had admirably summarized the early "life history" information. Kortright's book has been the standard reference for waterfowl illustrations and plumage descriptions for the past thirty years. Delacour's multivolume monograph obviously commanded sufficient authority to render unnecessary detailed consideration of taxonomic questions. My own earlier books on waterfowl behavior (Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior) and waterfowl biology Waterfowl: Their Biology and Natural History) made superfluous additional descriptions of sexual behavior patterns or general comparative reviews of ecology and breeding biology.

What remained to be done, I finally decided, was to provide an up-to-date series of accounts dealing with the ecology and reproductive biology of every waterfowl species presently known to breed on the North American continent. In this way, the recent field studies of three separate groups, the wildlife biologists, ecologists, and ethologists, might be integrated. I hoped to make the book understandable to nonprofessionals, but still retain sufficient specific information as to make it a useful reference for students and professional waterfowl biologists. Secondly, information on both field and in-hand identification of all waterfowl species likely to be encountered in North America seemed to me to be equally important, especially in view of the increasing requirements for hunters to recognize quite precisely what they shoot or attempt to shoot. Also, practical means of accurate identification of waterfowl, and the further determination of waterfowl as to age and sex, are of foremost importance to biologists concerned with waterfowl management. These two goals thus became the nucleus for the development of the book. Illustrative materials in the form of distribution maps and photographs of live birds were added to supplement written descriptions of ranges, plumages, and identification criteria. Except where otherwise indicated all photographs and drawings are mine.

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