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Human Disturbances to Waterfowl: An Annotated Bibliography

Robert B. Dahlgren and Carl E. Korschgen

Abstract: The expansion of outdoor recreational activities has increased greatly the interaction between the public and waterfowl and waterfowl habitat. The effects of these interactions on waterfowl habitats are more visible and obvious, whereas the effects of interactions which disrupt the normal behavior of waterfowl are more subtle and often overlooked, but perhaps no less of a problem than destruction of habitat. Resource managers and administrators require information on the types, magnitude, and potential effects of disturbances that will affect human use of and access to wildlife resources. This bibliography contains excerpts or annotations from 211 articles that contained information about effects of human disturbances on waterfowl. Indices are provided for subject/keywords, geographic locations, species of waterfowl, and authors used in this bibliography.

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Increases in human population, transportation, recreational boating, industrial and residential development, birdwatching, camping, and hiking all create conflicts with waterfowl which must use a dwindling and fragmented habitat base. Managers and administrators require information on the types, magnitude, and potential effects of disturbances that will affect human use of and access to wildlife resources. Managers responsible for waterfowl production should be aware of the problems created by human disturbance to aid them in the design of facilities and developments to increase public appreciation of waterfowl.

This bibliography resulted from concerns about human disturbance to flocks of canvasback ducks (Aythya valisineria) and other waterfowl that stage on navigation pools of the Upper Mississippi River during fall migration. Initially, a field study and subsequent literature search for information to use in a manuscript describing these disturbances (Korschgen et al. 1985) indicated that few specific studies had been conducted on the subject, although there were numerous anecdotal references. Aspects of human disturbance to other groups of wildlife, especially large game mammals (e.g., Bollinger et al. 1973; Ream 1980; Ferguson and Keith 1982) and nesting seabirds and shorebirds (e.g., Hunt 1972; Robert and Ralph 1975; Buckley and Buckley 1976; Manuwal 1979; Rodgers and Burger 1981; Burger 1981; Whitman 1988; Frederick and Collopy 1989; Strauss and Dane 1989; Yalden and Yalden 1990), have received considerable attention because of the increased frequency of human-wildlife interactions in national and state parks, refuges, management areas, and seashores (Foin et al. 1977; Purdy et al. 1987; Pomerantz et al. 1988). Books have been written relating to effects of human disturbance on natural resources (Edington and Edington 1986; Hammitt and Cole 1987). We decided that a consolidated information source on human disturbances to waterfowl would be of value to waterfowl managers and administrators.

We searched Wildlife Abstracts, Wildlife Review, Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Society Bulletin, and Wildlife Monographs for titles and key words related to human disturbance. Unfortunately, few key words used by journals relate to this topic. We also searched a bibliography of waterfowl papers maintained by Kenneth J. Reinecke (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center) that contains over 5,000 citations. Perhaps our most valuable source of information was the reference sections of publications dealing with human disturbances to waterfowl.

Some of the bibliographic entries are papers that did not directly pertain to waterfowl, but the topics may be important for further research related to waterfowl.

The definition of human disturbance to waterfowl varies among authors. The following definition seems reasonable to us: a direct event, intentionally or unintentionally created by people, leading to a reaction of alertness; fright (obvious or inapparent); interruption of activities; flight, swimming, or other displacements; or death or disablement. The event may have long-term or short-term effects. We have excluded almost all references dealing with death of waterfowl including: hunter harvest or illegal harvest, waterfowl collisions with power lines, deaths from the ingestion of angler's lead sinkers, losses of diving ducks to commercial fish nets and trotlines, and losses of waterfowl to furbearer trapping during spring seasons that are no longer in existence. Sometimes it was so awkward to exclude these subjects that we included them, but our intent was to confine ourselves chiefly to disturbance caused by direct human activity (presence, traffic, flights, fishing, boating, and so forth).

We included several papers relating to waterfowl energetics because disturbances may hinder the acquisition of food (energy) which may affect fitness for migration and breeding. Energetics is a rapidly developing topic that will be important in answering some of the questions about the effects of disturbance that cannot now be answered.

The frequency of topics in the subject index is shown in Table 1. Disturbances created by water users, chiefly boaters, anglers, and hunters, are mentioned most frequently. These disturbances were serious in that they displaced waterfowl from their feeding grounds, created energetic costs associated with flight, and affected nesting or brooding waterfowl, which may have lowered productivity. Interestingly, researcher-caused disturbances also had a high frequency of occurrence. Most biologists are familiar with the desertions of females caused while conducting nesting studies.

We hope this bibliography will stimulate research and focus on those areas most lacking in definitive data. Despite our efforts to include all the pertinent references, this bibliography is incomplete. It provides, however, a starting point for the reader interested in human disturbances to waterfowl.

Table 1. The number of times each item in the Subject Index is cited.
Subject Number of citations
Anglers (See fishing)
Baiting/artificial feeding7
Boating (boats, canoes, sculling, rowing, power, airboats, sailing)66
Breeding chronology2
Brood breakup14
Brood rearing7
Development (industrial, petroleum, pollution, urban, construction)24
Energetic costs (flight)23
Family breakup6
Feeding (natural)52
    Nets (trammel)2
  Lead weights (fishing or angler's)2
  Sport (angling)50
Hazing (scaring)12
Human activity/disturbance, general58
  Family breakup2
  Nest disturbance55
  Increased predation31
Native use2
Nest (see Investigator/research-caused)
  Disturbance 27
Refuge (restricting trespass, sanctuary--see Abatement) 36
Research (see Investigator/research)
Roads (also see Development)
"Sanded" dead2
Shipping (see Barges/shipping)
  Furbearer 1
Wariness (tameness, alert, tolerance distance)43


This project was begun under the direction of R. F. Berry, Manager of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge Complex. We particularly thank the following persons for their encouragement and aid: D. V. Bell, Senior Research Officer of the Wildfowl Trust, Slimbridge, England; R. B. Kahl, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; L. A. Batten, Senior Ornithological Advisor and Chief Scientist Directorate, Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough, England; and L. H. Fredrickson, Director of the Gaylord Memorial Laboratory, University of Missouri. We are indebted to many researchers, both in America and in Europe, who supplied reprints of their work. Most important has been the patient and thorough assistance of A. Zimmerman, librarian at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, who obtained many of the publications and provided editorial comments on the manuscript. J. Sauls and S. H. Thatcher, translated German papers. D. Stroud and J. Magerus, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, translated German and French papers. We are also grateful to A. Prochowicz, L. Ames, B. Toal, C. Eloranta, and H. Sampson who typed and checked the manuscript.

Literature Cited

Bollinger, J. G., O. J. Rongstad, A. Soom, and R. G. Eckstein. 1973. Snowmobile noise effects on wildlife, 1972-1973 report. Engineering Experiment Station, University Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 85 pp.

Buckley, P. A., and F. G. Buckley. 1976. Guidelines for the protection and management of colonial nesting waterbirds. U.S. National Park Service, Boston, Mass. 54 pp.

Burger, J. 1981. The effect of human activity on birds at a coastal bay. Biological Conservation 21:231-241.

Edington, J. M., and M. A. Edington. 1986. Ecology, recreation, and tourism. Cambridge University Press, New York. 198 pp.

Ferguson, M. S. D., and L. B. Keith. 1982. Influence of nordic skiing on distribution of moose and elk in Elk Island National Park, Alberta. Canadian Field-Naturalist 96:69-78.

Foin, T. C., E. O. Garton, C. W. Bowen, J. M. Everingham, and R. O. Schultz. 1977. Quantitative studies of visitor impacts on environments of Yosemite National Park, California, and their implications for park management policy. Journal of Environmental Management 5:1-22.

Hammitt, W. E., and D. N. Cole. 1987. Wildland recreation. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York. 341 pp.

Hunt, G. L., Jr. 1972. Influence of food distribution and human disturbance on the reproductive success of herring gulls. Ecology 53:1051-1061.

Korschgen, C. E., L. S. George, and W. L. Green. 1985. Disturbance of diving ducks by boaters on a migrational staging area. Wildlife Society Bulletin 13:290-296.

Manuwal, D. A. 1978. Effect of man on marine birds: a review. Pages 140-160 in Wildlife and People. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Ind.

Pomerantz, G. A., D. J. Decker, G. R. Goff, and K. G. Purdy. 1988. Assessing impact of recreation on wildlife: a classification scheme. Wildlife Society Bulletin 16:58-62.

Purdy, K. G., G. R. Goff, D. J. Decker, G. A. Pomerantz, and N. A. Connelly. 1987. A guide to managing human activity on National Wildlife Refuges. Human Dimensions Research Unit, Department Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Information Transfer, 1025 Pennock Place, Fort Collins, Colo. 57 pp.

Ream, C. H. 1980. Impacts of backcountry recreationists on wildlife: an annotated bibliography. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report INT-81. 62 pp.

Robert, H. C., and C. J. Ralph. 1975. Effects of human disturbance on the breeding success of gulls. Condor 77:495-499.

Rodgers , J. A., Jr., and J. Burger. 1981. Symposium on human disturbance and colonial waterbirds. Colonial Waterbirds 4:1.

Strauss, E., and B. Dane. 1989. Differential reproductive success in a stressed population of piping plovers in areas of high and low human disturbance. American Zoologist 29:42A.

Whitman, P. L. 1988. Biology and conservation of the endangered interior least tern: a literature review. U.S. Fish Wildlife Service Biological Report 88(3). 22 pp.

Yalden, P. E., and D. W. Yalden. 1990. Recreational disturbance of breeding golden plovers Pluvialis apricarius. Biological Conservation 51:243-262.

This resource is based on the following source (Northern Prairie Publication 0859):

Dahlgren, Robert B., and Carl E. Korschgen.  1992.  Human disturbances of waterfowl: an annotated bibliography.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Publication 188.  62pp.

This resource should be cited as:

Dahlgren, Robert B., and Carl E. Korschgen.  1992.  Human disturbances of waterfowl: an annotated bibliography.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Publication 188.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. (Version 16JUL1997).

Robert B. Dahlgren, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Birds and Refuge Biology -- Region 3, P.O. Box 2484, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54602.
Carl E. Korschgen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, La Crosse Field Station, P.O. Box 2226, La Crosse, Wisconsin 54602.

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