US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version

January 1988


Published in Diana H. Cross and Paul Vohs (eds.) Waterfowl Management Handbook. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1988. Online at


Waterfowl are a diverse group of birds that have widely divergent requirements for survival and recruitment. Whistling-ducks, geese, and swans (Anserinae) and ducks (Anatinae) have contrasting life history requirements.

Several goose populations have expanded greatly despite extensive continental wetland losses and degradation. Most expanding populations nest in arctic areas where modifications or disturbance of nesting habitats have been minimal. These grazers often find suitable migratory and wintering habitats in terrestrial or agricultural environments. In contrast, ducks are less terrestrial and populations are influenced more by wetland characteristics, such as quality, total area of wetland basins, and size and configuration of these basins. Because many dabbling ducks nest in upland habitats surrounding wetlands, recruitment of waterfowl is closely tied to both terrestrial and wetland communities. Their primary upland and wetland nesting habitats, as well as migratory and wintering habitats, have been severely degraded or lost to agriculture.

Management for waterfowl in North America is complicated further because each of over 40 species has unique requirements that are associated with different wetland types. Likewise, the requirements for a single species are best supplied from a variety of wetland types.

In recent years, the relations between migrating and wintering habitats have been identified for mallards and arctic-nesting geese. These cross-seasonal effects emphasize the importance of habitats at different latitudes and locations. Thus, effective management requires an appreciation of the general patterns of resource requirements in the annual cycle. Recognition of the adaptations of waterfowl to changing wetland systems provides opportunities for managers to meet the diverse needs of waterfowl.