Waterfowl managers often attempt to protect local breeding stocks of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) from hunting pressure, but presently they cannot identify natal origins of birds shot during fall hunting seasons with certainty, unless recovered birds are banded before fledging. Accordingly, we examined whether stable isotope methodology could accurately delineate natal origins of mallards at a fine scale within the upper Midwest (USA). We determined δ13C, δD, and δ15N values from feather samples of 102 flightless mallard ducklings collected in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, USA, from 7 July to 9 September 2002. We detected inverse relationships between latitude and δ13C (R2 = 0.223) and δD (R2 = 0.210). We also detected a weak positive relationship between easterly shifts in longitude and δ13C (R2 = 0.067) and a weak negative relationship between easterly shifts in longitude and δ15N (R2 = 0.076). The 13C and deuterium values differed (P < 0.02) among states: North Dakota was most depleted in 13C, and South Dakota was least depleted in deuterium. Discriminant function analysis delineated natal origins of mallard ducklings in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin with low-to-moderate accuracy (47%), whereas we predicted natal origins of ducklings among subregions (Prairie [ND, SD] vs. Great Lakes [MN, WI] states) with moderate accuracy (72%). We conclude that stable isotope methodology has a limited ability to determine natal origins of migratory birds along a longitudinal corridor at fine scales but that it improves across ecoregions. However, the ability of deuterium to determine natal origins of migratory birds may vary as hydrological conditions, within and among areas, change throughout time. Researchers should account for annual variation in deuterium found in surface waters when investigating natal origins of migratory birds that use food derived primarily from these waters.
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Vol. 71 • No. 4