I. Species Description

Waterfowl are distributed worldwide, except for the Antarctic region. This family of birds includes ducks, geese, and swans. They inhabit aquatic habitats such as lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and marshes. Some groups inhabit marine environments outside of the breeding season. Many waterfowl are migratory, although tropical and subtropical species remain close to breeding grounds during non-breeding season.

Waterfowl are medium to large birds (1 to 6 ft; 8 oz to 50 lbs). The bird’s necks are relatively long and the heads are small. Wings are short and tails may be short and rounded or longer and narrow. Legs are set far back on the body and the front three toes are webbed. Bills are generally broad. The birds spend much of their time in the water and spend a great deal of time on preening and feather maintenance. They use their bills to condition and waterproof their feathers with oil secreted from a gland in the skin at the base of the tail.

Waterfowl are known for their flock formations, which may serve to provide predator protection or to facilitate locating abundant food sources. Waterfowl may form small flocks or groups of up to several hundred thousand individuals.

Most waterfowl are omnivorous, but some are primarily herbivorous and others are mostly carnivorous. They eat the seeds, roots, stems, leaves and flowers of aquatic vegetation. Some feed on plankton or algae. Other food items taken include mollusks, aquatic insects, crustaceans and small fish.


II. Sensitivity to Oil Spills

The primary direct effect from exposure to oil for waterfowl is getting oil on their feathers and losing their ability to stay insulated, waterproof, and afloat. This can result in death from hypothermia. Waterfowl may ingest oil while trying to clean their feathers or when they try to eat contaminated food. This ingestion can severely damage internal organs, impair the ability to eat, and may cause long-term reproductive effects. A great potential for damage is direct exposure of eggs to water borne contaminants.


III. Sensitivity to Response Methods

The following text describes potential adverse impacts to waterfowl resulting from various oil spill response methods and/or provides recommendations to reduce impact when these methods are implemented. This is not intended to preclude the use of any particular methods, but rather to aid responders in balancing the need to remove oil with the possible adverse effects of removal with respect to waterfowl. More detail about the response methods themselves can be found in the Inland Response Tactics Manual.

Additional Information