Dabbling and Diving Duck Research

Science Center Objects

Dabbling and diving ducks, such as mallards, pintails and scaup, are widespread species throughout North America.  Additionally, their migratory flyways pass through Asia and North America overlap in Alaska.  Population trends of these species are closely tracked through aerial surveys by management agencies.  Results from these and other surveys are then used to formulate management actions to maintain healthy populations.  USGS Alaska Science Center research on these species focuses on population status and trends and pathogens, such as avian influenza. 

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Northern Pintail Duck swimming

Northern Pintail Duck swimming in a lake
(Credit: Brian Guzzetti, USGS. Public domain.)

Northern Pintail

Aside from research conducted on Northern Pintails as part of Avian Influenza Surveillance and Research, the USGS Alaska Science Center has also studied migration and nesting biology of Northern Pintails to inform how spring conditions, migration, and nesting ecology may drive population trends through time.  These studies were conducted due to declines in the number of breeding Northern Pintails in prairie parkland areas of the mid-west U.S. and southern Canada in the 1980’s.  These areas were historically where most of the North American population of Northern Pintails nested.  However, during the decline, the number of birds breeding in Alaska remained relatively stable, resulting in an increased proportion of all North American pintails breeding in Alaska.  USGS Alaska Science Center research sought to understand drivers of productivity of the Alaska breeding population in comparison to other populations.


Greater Scaup floating on the water in Northern Alaska

Greater Scaup on the Arctic Coastal Plain ​​​​​​
​​​​​​​(Credit: Ryan Askren, USGS. Public domain.)

North American scaup populations (including both species; Lesser and Greater Scaup), declined through the 1980’s and 1990’s.  When species trends are separated by species, populations of Greater Scaup show relative stability during a period when populations of Lesser Scaup declined from historic levels.  In Alaska, Greater Scaup are more common in coastal tundra of the Arctic and Subarctic, whereas Lesser Scaup are found in the boreal forest regions.  To provide scientific information about drivers of scaup population trends, the USGS Alaska Science Center studied the survival, nesting ecology, female condition, and productivity of Greater Scaup on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in western Alaska and developed a model of population dynamics.  More recently, USGS Alaska Science Center research has focused on Lesser Scaup in the Boreal Forest to understand how fire and changes in lake surface area influence scaup productivity.