Waterfowl habitat use and selection during the remigial moult period in the northern hemisphere

Anthony D. Fox, Paul L. Flint, William L. Hohman, Jean-Pierre L. Savard


This paper reviews factors affecting site selection amongst waterfowl (Anatidae) during the flightless remigial moult, emphasising the roles of predation and food supply (especially protein and energy). The current literature suggests survival during flightless moult is at least as high as at other times of the annual cycle, but documented cases of predation of flightless waterfowl under particular conditions lead us to infer that habitat selection is generally highly effective in mitigating or avoiding predation. High energetic costs of feather replacement and specific amino-acid requirements for their construction imply adoption of special energetic and nutritional strategies at a time when flightlessness limits movements. Some waterfowl meet their energy needs from endogenous stores accumulated prior to remigial moult, others rely on exogenous supply, but this varies with species, age, reproductive status and site. Limited evidence suggests feather proteins are derived from endogenous and exogenous sources which may affect site selection. Remigial moult does not occur independently of other annual cycle events and is affected by reproductive investment and success. Hence, moult strategies are affected by age, sex and reproductive history, and may be influenced by the need to attain a certain internal state for the next stage in the annual cycle (e.g. autumn migration). We know little about habitat selection during moult and urge more research of this poorly known part of the annual cycle, with particular emphasis on identifying key concentrations and habitats for specific flyway populations and the effects of disturbance upon these. This knowledge will better inform conservation actions and management actions concerning waterfowl during moult and the habitats that they exploit.

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