The timing of arrival and moult chronology of Harlequin Ducks Histrionicus histrionicus

G J Robertson, F Cooke, R I Goudie, W S Boyd


The timing of arrival and moulting chronology of a population of post-breeding Harlequin Ducks was studied over a three year period in south-western British Columbia. males first arrived on the moulting and wintering grounds in mid-June and most had returned from the breeding areas by the end of July. Females first arrived in late July and continued to arrive until the end of September. The flightless period for the males ranged for late July to late August. Flightless females could be seen throughout August and September. Wings took 30-31 days to regrow, compared to 26 days for tails. Assuming birds can fly at 70% remex growth this corresponds to a flightless period of about 21 days. Yearlings of both sexes exhibited moulting chronologies similar to adult males. All birds initiated moulting as soon as they arrived on the non-breeding grounds, suggesting an advantage for early moulting. The reasons for this are likely to be different for the two sexes. Males probably initiate moult quickly to be able to return to their alternate plumage and begin courting females. Females may moult early to complete wing growth before the onset of winter.

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