Rose, P., Roper, A., Banks, S. et al. 2022. Evaluation of the time-activity budgets of captive ducks (Anatidae) compared to wild counterparts. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 251, 105626.
Ducks are commonly housed in captive environments where their abilities for flight are constrained, either temporarily or permanently. The use of flight restraint in modern animal management is contentious and ethically questioned yet any associated impacts on behaviour remain poorly documented and evaluated. Comparison of information on wild ecology and activity of free-living individuals with information from the same species when captive-housed can reliably inform on “naturalness” of behaviour patterns if standardised methods are used. This research aimed to compare the activity of several species of ducks (Order Anseriformes) with information contained in the literature, and that collected from direct observation, to identify differences between the behaviours of captive and wild ducks. Observational data on the state behaviours for 17 duck species were collected at three Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT) centres in the UK from 2015 to 2018, with behavioural data on two species of wild duck also collected via direct observation. A meta-analysis of time spent on key state behaviours (papers published up until 2018) was performed to provide comparison with the information provided on time-activity budgets of the captive birds. Results showed a multitude of factors influenced captive duck behaviour, but resting, maintenance and locomotion behaviours were most commonly observed. Wild birds differed significantly in their time-activity budgets compared to captive individuals and data from the meta-analysis revealed that foraging rates were higher in the wild than in captivity. Records of abnormal behaviour in captive birds were non-existent to very low in performance, suggesting that flight restrained ducks do not fill part of their time budget with stereotypic behaviour. Human presence may potentially influence of the behaviour of both wild and captive ducks living in wetland areas that attract human visitors. Seasonal, temporal and sex differences significantly also affected wild and captive duck behaviour. Further study should continue to investigate behavioural responses of these species to a range of captive housing to determine the most optimal way of providing for good welfare under human care. Research that investigates the behaviour of fully winged captive ducks to extend our evaluation of behaviour patterns in flight restrained birds (and to provide further review against wild data) is recommended.