Spacing Patterns, Mating systems, and winter Philopatry in Harlequin ducks.
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Many species of waterfowl form pair bonds during the nonbreeding season, yet current descriptions of mating systems and patterns of philopatry in waterfowl focus on the breeding grounds. We studied wintering Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) in southwestern British Columbia to examine mating systems and philopatric behavior outside of the breeding season. The number of males at our study area was far more variable than that of females. Males that were unsuccessful in obtaining a mate were observed over a larger area than were paired males. Habitat use overlapped considerably among paired males, and no territorial boundaries were formed. Annual return rates to the nonbreeding grounds were high for both sexes (62% for females, 77% for males). Individuals not only returned to the general study area, but also to specific sections within the study area. Males that did not pair in the previous year returned to the study area in the subsequent year with the same frequency as males that had obtained mates; however, they tended to leave the study area prior to courtship. Therefore, it is possible that males return to the same wintering grounds each year to reunite with a previous mate. High levels of philopatry by both sexes allow pairs to reunite in fall, potentially increasing the benefits of philopatry for both sexes.