Breeding success should increase with prior knowledge of the surrounding environment, which is dependent upon an animal's ability to evaluate habitat. Prospecting for nesting locations and migratory stopover sites are well-established behaviours among bird species. We assessed whether three species of California dabbling ducks – mallards, Anas platyrhynchos, gadwall, Mareca strepera, and cinnamon teal, Spatula cyanoptera – in Suisun Marsh, California, U.S.A., a brackish marsh, prospect for suitable wetlands in the week prior to brooding. K-means cluster analyses grouped 29 mallard and gadwall hens into three groups. One group (N = 13) demonstrated evidence of brood site prospecting, with the fewest and latest prebrooding wetland visits. Of these hens, seven visited their future brood pond an average of 1.14 times and only shortly before brooding (1.29 days), obtaining current information on habitat suitability. For the remaining six hens, we did not detect a brooding wetland visit, possibly due to data limitations or because these hens acquired sufficient familiarity with the wetland habitat during nest breaks in adjacent wetlands, obviating the need to prospect the specific brood pond. The second identified group of hens (N = 11) visited the brooding wetland most frequently (on 4.55 days), further in advance (5.27 days), with the fewest unique wetland visits and the earliest brooding date (26 May). The final group of hens (N = 5) were the latest to brood (21 June) and visited the most wetlands, possibly due to less water or more broods present across the landscape. Brood ponds were always farther from the nest than the nearest ponds, indicating that habitat suitability or presence of conspecifics is more important to brood site selection. Prospecting provides hens with knowledge about current habitat conditions and allows them to ‘crowdsource’ public information regarding use of that habitat by other brooding hens. Prospecting may, therefore, benefit ducks inhabiting ephemeral habitats like those within Suisun Marsh, where brood habitat is limited and water cover changes rapidly during the breeding season.
U.S. Geological Survey
brood habitat, brood prospecting, crowdsourcing, dabbling duck, electronic tracking, GPS, public information, site prospecting, Suisun Marsh
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Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Michael L. Casazza, Fiona McDuie, Austen A. Lorenz, David Keiter, Julie Yee, Cory T. Overton, Sarah H. Peterson, Cliff L. Feldheim, and Joshua T. Ackerman. "Good prospects: high-resolution telemetry data suggests novel brood site selection behaviour in waterfowl" Animal Behaviour (2020): 163-172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.04.013