Although numbers of buffleheads (Bucephala albeola), common goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) over-wintering on Lake Ontario have increased substantially over the past two decades, factors influencing habitat use and the potential for competition have not been investigated. The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between prey availability and community structure of diving ducks during winter on northeastern Lake Ontario. Benthic and nektonic samples collected during fall, winter, and spring 2002–2004 indicated that macroinvertebrate numbers differed by location but generally did not decline throughout winter. Large accumulations of macroinvertebrates, apparently moved by wave action and currents, were documented in nearshore areas. Surveys showed that diving ducks congregated in mixed species flocks within areas of higher food abundance. Mixed species flocks were common in nearshore areas, likely because energy-dense foods (Amphipoda and Chironomidae) were abundant in the narrow zone of shallow water, close to shore. Although macroinvertebrate numbers likely affected habitat use by diving ducks, birds did not greatly reduce abundance of macroinvertebrates. It is unlikely that exploitative competition was occurring and interference competition appeared below threshold levels that would cause species to spatially segregate. Overall, our results suggest that food availability is not a limiting factor for buffleheads, common goldeneyes, or long-tailed ducks wintering on northeastern Lake Ontario.
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