US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Auk 121(3):695–706, 2004.


We investigated patterns and causes of variation in clutch sizes in a guild of five species of temperate-nesting dabbling ducks (Mallard [Anas platyrhynchos], Northern Pintail [“pintail,” A. acuta], Gadwall [A. strepera], Blue-winged Teal [“teal,” A. discors], and Northern Shoveler [“shoveler,” A. clypeata]) during 1993–1995 in the Prairie Pothole Region of midcontinental North America. Clutch sizes (mean ± SE) were largest for teal (10.80 ± 0.03), followed in descending order by those of shoveler (10.31 ± 0.05), Gadwall (9.92 ± 0.04), Mallard (8.91 ± 0.04), and pintail (7.66 ± 0.06). In Mallard, pintail, and shoveler, predicted clutch sizes at onset of nesting exhibited minimal variation. Clutch sizes of Gadwall and teal displayed statistically significant variation among years at onset of nesting; pintail clutch sizes showed significant variation late in the nesting season. Clutch sizes declined seasonally in all species. Declines in clutch sizes of teal and shoveler were approximately linear; whereas clutch sizes of Mallard, pintail, and Gadwall usually declined at progressively decreasing rates. Linear declines in teal and shoveler clutches suggest that those species experienced greater difficulty securing lipids for egg production late in the nesting season than did Mallard, pintail, and Gadwall. That disparity may result because egg-laying female teal and shoveler feed almost exclusively on animal foods, which are primarily protein; whereas female Mallard, pintail, and Gadwall consume more carbohydrate-rich plant foods. Our findings, when examined in context with existing information, suggest that interspecific variation in clutch sizes results from innate differences in several traits—including body size, diet, timing of lipid acquisition, and nesting—all of which can affect the amount of lipid available for egg production. Temperate-nesting dabbling ducks have evolved traits that facilitate laying of large clutches early in the nesting season, because risk of mortality is lower among early-hatched young. Annual differences in clutch sizes of all five species were not significant when effects of annual variation in nest-initiation dates were accounted for, reflecting the key role of environmental influences on intraspecific variation in clutch sizes among years.