Geographic variation in factors that influence timing of moult and breeding in waterfowl

Mduduzi Ndlovu, Philip A.R. Hockey, Graeme S. Cumming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Waterfowl flight-feather moult is expected to occur when energy is not needed for breeding and when a suitable safe habitat is available. Flight-feather regrowth is an energetically costly stage in the annual cycle of waterfowls. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that moult will coincide with the time of year when food and aquatic habitats are most abundant. We investigated how the timing of rainfall relates to the timing of breeding and flight-feather moult in five common southern African waterfowl at two sites in South Africa with opposite rainfall regimes (one summer, one winter). We then incorporated published data to compare and contrast the relative timing of breeding and moult in southern hemisphere (southern African and Australian) waterfowl with northern hemisphere (European and North American) species. Our results showed that southern African waterfowl breed in the wet season and moult during the dry season. Tadorna cana was an exception, breeding in the dry season and moulting during the wet season in the summer-rainfall area. There was also a long lag period between peak breeding and peak moult in southern hemisphere waterfowl species, the longest lag being that of birds in the summer-rainfall area. By comparison, northern hemisphere waterfowl species breed and moult during the warm season, with a shorter lag period between peak breeding and peak moult compared to southern hemisphere species. We concluded that waterfowl in southern Africa (with the exception of T. cana), southeast Australia, Europe and North America time their breeding period to coincide with peaks in the availability of both food and breeding sites. Northern hemisphere species moult where chances of predation are low, when temperatures are warm, and before food and aquatic habitats approach their winter minima. By contrast, southern hemisphere waterfowl delay the onset of moult until the dry season, opting to moult when both food and aquatic moulting habitats are scarce.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-106
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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