US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Journal of Wildlife Management 70(5).


We used radiotelemetry to study mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) brood movements, wetland use, and duckling survival during a major drought (1988–1992) and during the first 2 years of the subsequent wet period (1993–1994) at 4 51-km2 sites in prairie pothole landscapes in eastern North Dakota, USA. About two-thirds of 69 radiomarked mallard broods initiated moves from the nest to water before noon, and all left the nest during daylight. On average, broods used fewer wetlands, but moved greater distances during the dry period than the wet period. Broods of all ages were more likely to make inter-wetland moves during the wet period and probabilities of inter-wetland moves decreased as duckling age increased, especially during the dry period. Brood use of seasonal wetlands nearly doubled from 22% to 43% and use of semi-permanent wetlands declined from 73% to 50% from the dry to the wet period. Eighty-one of 150 radiomarked ducklings died during 1,604 exposure days. We evaluated survival models containing variables related to water conditions, weather, duckling age, and hatch date. Model-averaged risk ratios indicated that, on any given date, radiomarked ducklings were 1.5 (95% CI = 0.8–2.8) times more likely to die when the percentage of seasonal basins containing water (WETSEAS) was ≤18% than when WETSEAS was >40%. An interaction between duckling age and occurrence of rain on the current or 2 previous days indicated that rain effects were pronounced when ducklings were 0–7 days old but negligible when they were 8–30 days old. The TMIN (mean daily minimum temperature on the current and 2 previous days) effects generally were consistent between duckling age classes, and the risk of duckling death increased 9.3% for each 18C decrease in TMIN across both age classes. Overall, the 30-day survival rate of ducklings equipped with radiotransmitters was about 0.23 lower than the survival rate of those without radiotransmitters. Unmarked ducklings were 7.6 (95% CI=2.7–21.3) times more likely to die on any given day when WETSEAS was ≤18% than when WETSEAS was >40%. Higher duckling survival and increased use of seasonal wetlands during the wet period suggest that mallard production will benefit from programs that conserve and restore seasonal wetland habitat. Given adverse effects of low temperatures on duckling survival, managers may want to include this stochastic variable in models used to predict annual production of mallards in the Prairie Pothole Region.