Waterfowl hotspots in North America are typically located along the four major flyways. These four flyways are:
The Atlantic Flyway spans more than 3,000 miles from the Arctic tundra of Baffin Island to the Caribbean. This flyway is composed of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia; the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec; and the territory of Nunavut.
The Atlantic Flyway is the most densely populated of the four flyways. Human development threatens much of the waterfowl habitat that remains on this flyway; however, Ducks Unlimited and their partners have conserved nearly 500,000 acres of waterfowl habitat to date.
The Mississippi Flyway spans more than 2,300 miles. It is associated with the Mississippi River watershed of more than 1.5 million square miles and is the most heavily used migration corridor for waterfowl. This flyway is composed of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, as well as the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Ducks Unlimited and its partners have conserved over 1.6 million acres of habitat in this flyway.
The Central Flyway covers more than 1 million square miles across central North America. This flyway extends from Canada's boreal forest, across the Great Plains, down to the Texas Gulf Coast. The Central Flyway is composed of North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska; portions of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico east of the Continental Divide; the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan; and the Northwest Territories.
Ducks Unlimited has conserved nearly 1.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat in this flyway.
The Pacific Flyway spans 4,000 miles north to south and 1,000 miles east to west. This flyway extends from the Arctic to the west coast of Mexico and the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific flyway includes some of the most diverse waterfowl habitat on the continent. The states included in this flyway are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington; portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming west of the Continental Divide; and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta; and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Ducks Unlimited and its partners have conserved nearly 1 million acres of habitat in this particular flyway.
Prairie Pothole Region:
The PPR is the center of what was once the most expansive grassland in the world: The Great Plains. The characteristic potholes began being formed about 10,000 years ago with the retreat of glaciers after the last ice age. These glaciers left behind millions of depressions in the land, which filled with water to become wetlands. These areas are rich in both plant and aquatic life.
The PPR is ranked number 1 on the 25 most important and threatened waterfowl habitats in North America. 50 - 90% of the PPR has been lost or degraded due to agriculture and development. Nearly 200,000 acres have been lost since 1984.
Central Valley/Coastal California:
The California Central Valley spans from Red Bluff to Bakersfield. This region is ranked number 2 on the 25 most important and threatened waterfowl habitats on the continent. The Coastal California region spans from Bodega Bay south to northern Mexico and includes the San Francisco and San Diego bays. Extensive restoration and protection has taken place in this region. Ducks Unlimited alone has restored bout 60,000 acres of wetlands and nearly 57,000 more acres and received long-term protection.
This region is critical habitat for 60 % of winterng waterfowl. The Central Valley is the most important wintering area for Aleutian geese, Wrangel Island snow geese, and northern pintails in North America.
Mississippi Alluvial Valley:
The Mississippi Alluvial Valley is the historic floodplain and valley of the lower Mississippi River. The MAV was once a 24.7 million acre expanse of forested wetlands, with swamps, cypress-tupelo brakes, scrub-shrub wetlands and emergent wetlands. Unfortunately, the MAV has been altered drastically in the last 200 years, with the most change occurring in the last 75 years. Only about 20% of the original forest remains in the MAV and the rest has been converted to agricultural land.
The MAV is the continent's most important wintering habitat for mallards and wood ducks. Due to the conversion of the land to support agriculture, the region has become more important to northern pintails, green-winged teal, northern shovelers, and white-fronted geese. Approximately 10 - 25% of the continent's canvasback population winter in the lower Mississippi River delta and on the Catahoula Lake.
Of about 230 waterfowl species, 30 are threatened. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, as of 2012: 6 species are critically endangered, 11 are endangered, and 13 are vulnerable.
Critically Endangered Species:
|Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata)|
- Laysan duck
- Baer's pochard
- Madagascar pochard
- Brazilian merganser
- Pin-headed duck
- Crested shelduck
- Madagascar teal
- Brown teal
Brown teal (Anas chlorotis)
- Meller's duck
- Campbell Islands teal
- Hawaiian duck
- Red-breasted goose
- White-winged duck
- Blue duck
- Velvet (white-winged) scoter
- Scaly-sided merganser
- White-headed duck
|Philippine duck (Anas luzonica)|
- Aukland Islands Teal
- Eaton's pintail
- Philippine duck
- Swan goose
- Lesser white-fronted goose
- Hawaiian goose
- Long-tailed duck
- Blue-winged goose
- West Indian whistling-duck
- Marbled teal
- Steller's eider
- Salvadori's teal
- White-headed steamerduck
Major Threats to Waterfowl
- A classic example of introduced predators negatively impacting waterfowl is the rat and mongoose problem on Hawaii causing the decline of the Nene. Rats were inadvertently brought to the Hawaiian Islands when settlers colonized. These rats preyed upon Nene eggs, threatening the species. In an attempt to alleviate this problem, managers introduced mongoose to the islands in the hopes they would eradicate the rat population. Unfortunately, this management strategy was not thought through very well because rats are nocturnal and mongoose are diurnal thus, compounding the problem. The Hawaiian Nene now had TWO introduced predators to worry about. Despite better management plans, the fate of the Nene is still uncertain. They are still plagued by introduced predators, low genetic diversity, and low quality habitat.
(Jeff Black PhD, DSc. "Case Study: Nene Recovery Inititative". 12 March 2013.)
- At the time of Colonial America, the United States hosted an estimated 392 million acres of wetlands. 221 million acres in the lower 48, 170 million in Alaska, and 59,000 in Hawaii. According to Dahl (1990), the lower 48 states lost 53% of its wetlands in the 200 year time span between 1780 and 1980. Alaska lost <1% and Hawaii lost an estimated 12% of their original wetlands. California, alone, had lost 91% of its wetlands by 1980. Today that loss is at 95%. The rate of loss during the 200 year time period from 1780 to 1980 averages out to more than 60 acres of wetlands lost for every HOUR. As of 2009, 110.1 million acres of wetlands of the original 392 million remained.
Major Causes of Wetland Loss and Degradation
- Sea level rise
- Tilling for crop production
- Air and water pollutants
- Introducing nonnative species
- Grazing by domestic livestock
|Wood duck x Mallard hybrid|
- Hybridization occurs when an individual of one species enters the geographical of ecological space of another, and the two produce offspring. In waterfowl, hybridization can result from forced copulations, or the male of one species pairing with and guarding the female of another species. Waterfowl hybridize more than any other family of birds with more than 400 different hybrids documented to date. Mallards have proven to be a major threat to other species in terms of hybridization as they are known to crossbreed with nearly 50 other species. Wood ducks are another problem species hybridizing with 26 other species. Additionally, roughly 20% of waterfowl hybrid offspring are fertile. The most common wild hybrids in North America are mallard/pintail crosses. Mallards also commonly hybridize with black ducks, wigeon, shovelers, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, and gadwalls. Ruddy ducks introduced to Europe have also proven to be a threat to the native white-headed ducks due to hybridization. The main problem with hybridization is that it could potentially lead to the extinction of a species due to introgressive gene flow. This process occurs when fertile hybrids reproduce, further diluting the once pure gene pool.
|Blue-winged teal x Green-winged teal hybrid|
|Mallard x Northern pintail hybrid|
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) 1990
Waterfowl Species and Habitat Recovery Efforts
Many different recovery efforts have been implemented in the interest of protecting waterfowl and their habitat. There are 3 types of recovery efforts: natural (hands-off), detailed research (fine-tune techniques), and proactive (hands-on). Typically, all 3 off these types of recovery efforts are used together or are somehow correlated in order to realize the best recovery, restoration, and protection potential. Below are a few examples of pieces of legislation as well as examples of non-governmental organizations that work to protect waterfowl and their habitat by implementing the recovery efforts previously listed.
Farm Bill:The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that covers most federal government policies related to agriculture in the United States. The Farm Bill was created in 1933 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Agricultural Adjustment Act to provide subsidies to farmers during the Great Depression. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was later declared unconstitutional, but was the basis for all future Farm Bills. Since 1965, Farm Bills have been passed with relative consistency every 5 years. Farm Bill conservation programs have been instrumental in slowing the loss of wetlands important to waterfowl in recent decades. This conservation trend favoring wetlands began in 1972 with the passage of the Clean Water Act.
Clean Water Act (CWA) 1972:The CWA provided much-needed protection for the nation's wetlands. This piece of legislation establishes the basic structure for regulating the release of pollutants into the waters of the US. It also regulates quality standards for surface waters. Unfortunately, in 2001, CWA protections were removed from "geographically isolated" wetlands. Millions of acres of wetlands are now in danger of being drained or polluted, including the Prairie Pothole Region which is considered critical waterfowl habitat.
Farm Bill Programs:
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) 1990
The WRP was established by the 1990 Farm Bill and is a voluntary program offered to private landowners which gives the the opportunity to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands on their property. The WRP is offered through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. In the Program's 20+ year history, more than 11,000 private landowners in the United States have enrolled over 2.3 million acres into the WRP.
Lands eligible for WRP:
- Wetlands farmed under natural conditions
- Farmed wetlands
- Prior converted cropland
- Farmed wetland pasture
- Certain lands that have the potential to become a wetland as a result of flooding
- Rangeland, pasture, or forest production lands where the hydrology has been significantly degraded and can be restored
- Riparian areas that link protected wetlands
- Lands adjacent to protected wetlands that contribute significantly to wetland functions and values
- Wetlands previously restored under a local, State, or Federal Program that need long-term protection
- Permanent Easement: A conservation easement in perpetuity. USDA pays 100 percent of the easement value and up to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
- 30-Year Easement: An easement that expires after 30 years. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the easement value and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
- Restoration Cost-Share Agreement: An agreement to restore or enhance the wetland functions and values without placing an easement on the enrolled acres. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
- 30-Year Contract: A 30-year contract option is only available on tribal lands. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Migratory birds take flight from WRP Easement in the Central Valley, California:
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The 1985 Farm Bill established the Conservation Reserve Program as we know it today. The CRP provides technical and financial aid to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and other natural resource concerns on their land. The program provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to restore portions of their land to wildlife habitat. The CRP is a voluntary program and is funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation and is administered by the USDA Farm Service agency. More than 1.5 million acres enrolled in the CRP have expired in the Prairie Pothole Region alone. Additionally, the 2008 Farm Bill lowered the maximum number of acres that could be enrolled from 39 million to 32 million. It is imperative that these acres be replaced and the PPR maintained or expanded in the future in order to preserve this important waterfowl habitat.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
An NGO is a legally constituted corporation that operates independently from any form of government. NGOs maintain this non-governmental status by excluding government officials or representatives from membership. These are, typically, non-profit organizations.
"Filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever" - Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited is an organization that got its start in 1937, during the Dust Bowl. During this time, waterfowl populations reached an all-time low and a small group of hunters formed a group to promote and protect waterfowl and their habitat. Ducks Unlimited conserves millions of acres throughout all of North America.
Mission Statement: "Our mission is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people."
Statistics as of January 1, 2013:
- Acreage conserved in Canada: 6,384,059
- Acreage conserved in Mexico: 1,902,470
- Acreage conserved in the U.S.: 4,717,699
- Acres influenced in North America:91,840,513
- Total acres influenced and conserved in North America: 104,844,741
Adult members: 544,086
Greenwings (minors): 47,790
The Ducks Unlimited Story:
California Waterfowl Association:
The California Waterfowl Association is a statewide, non-profit organization was founded in 1945. It was originally formed to influence hunting regulations and activities affecting waterfowl in California.
Mission Statement: "To conserve California's waterfowl, wetlands, and hunting heritage."
Goals that CWA has laid out in order to fulfill their mission:
- Generate sufficient abundance and dispersion of waterfowl throughout California and the Pacific Flyway.
- Protect hunting rights, shooting sports, the use of dogs, and related recreation activities for all Californians.
- Expand hunter opportunity, recruit new hunters, and teach skills and behaviors that will help sustain hunting into the future.
- Communicate the importance and benefits of hunting.
- Increase membership and funding for CWA to increase our capacity to achieve our mission.
- Ensure the long-term viability of CWA and plan for its growth.
- Maximize volunteer effectiveness.
Statistics from the 2010-2011 annual report:
- 84 projects conpleted
- 26,968 acres of habitat improved
- 2,026 acres of new wetlands
- 225 acres of riparian habitats created or restored
- 1,600 acres of breeding habitats improved
- 8,000+ waterfowl banded
- 38,600+ wood ducks hatched
CWA Jr & Intermediate Calling Competition: