Nebraska Game and Parks Commission


Date of this Version



Tidwell PR, Webb EB, Vrtiska MP, Bishop AA. 2013. Diets and food selection of female mallards and bluewinged teal during spring migration. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 4(1):63–74; e1944-687X. doi: 10.3996/ 072012-JFWM-062


Waterfowl nutritional requirements and food availability at migration stopover habitats may differ from those at nesting or wintering areas. Although there is little information on factors that influence waterfowl diets and food selection during migration, we hypothesized that bird age and wetland density in the surrounding landscape would influence food selection. Thus, the objective of this study was to quantify mallard Anas platyrhynchos and blue-winged teal Anas discors diets during migration and evaluate effects of age and wetland density on waterfowl food selection. We collected 30 mallards and 29 blue-winged teal with food items present in esophagi from wetlands in south-central Nebraska during spring 2008 and 2009. Smartweed Polygonum spp. and barnyard grass Echinochloa spp. were the most common seeds found in both mallards and blue-winged teal, while Naididae and Chironomidae larvae were the most common invertebrates in mallard and blue-winged teal diets, respectively. Invertebrates were consumed by both species in greater proportion than available. Both mallards and blue-winged teal collected in wetland complexes selected some seeds over others, whereas birds in isolated wetlands foraged on foods in proportion to availability. After-hatch-year mallards also selected for some seeds over others, as compared with hatch-year birds, which foraged opportunistically on available foods. If after-hatch-year birds and birds in wetland complexes are able to be more selective in their diets relative to food availability at individual wetlands, they may be able to acquire and replenish lipids reserves more efficiently than hatch-year birds or birds in areas with lower wetland densities.