Projected changes in the relative abundance and timing of autumn-winter migration are assessed for seven dabbling duck species across the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways for the mid- and late 21st century. Species-specific observed relationships are established between cumulative weather severity in autumn-winter and duck population rate of change. Dynamically downscaled projections of weather severity are developed using a high-resolution regional climate model, interactively coupled to a one-dimensional lake model to represent the Great Lakes and associated lake-effect snowfall.
Based on the observed relationships and downscaled climate projections of rising air temperatures and reduced snow cover, delayed autumn-winter migration is expected for all species, with the least delays for the Northern Pintail and the greatest delays for the Mallard. Indeed, the Mallard, the most common and widespread duck in North America, may overwinter in the Great Lakes region by the late 21st century. This highlights the importance of protecting and restoring wetlands across the mid-latitudes of North America, including the Great Lakes Basin, because dabbling ducks are likely to spend more time there, which would impact existing wetlands through increased foraging pressure. Furthermore, inconsistency in the timing and intensity of the traditional autumn-winter migration of dabbling ducks in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways could have social and economic consequences to communities to the south, where hunting and birdwatching would be affected.