We examined chronology and intensity of molt and their relationships to nutrient reserves (lipid and protein) of Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) to test predictions of two competing hypotheses. The “staggered cost” hypothesis states that contour-feather molt is nutritionally costly and should not occur during nutritionally costly periods of the annual cycle unless adequate nutrients are available. The “breeding plumage” hypothesis states that prealternate molt must be complete prior to nesting, regardless of nutrient availability. Males and females were completing prebasic molt during winter (Louisiana) and had similar molt intensities. Females underwent prealternate molt during spring migration (Illinois and Minnesota) and prebreeding (Manitoba) periods; 53% and 93% of females were in moderate to heavy molt in Minnesota and Manitoba, respectively, despite experiencing other substantial nutritional costs. Intensity of prealternate molt was not correlated with lipid reserves even though females, on average, were nutritionally stressed. Molt intensity was not negatively correlated with protein reserves at any location. Chronology and intensity of prealternate molt varied little and were not temporally staggered from other nutritionally costly events. Prealternate molt did not influence nutrient reserves, and nutrient reserves likely were not the ultimate factor influencing chronology or intensity of prealternate molt of females. We surmise that nutrients required for prealternate molt come from exogenous sources and that the “staggered cost” hypothesis does not explain chronology of prealternate molt in female Lesser Scaup; rather, it appears that molt must be complete prior to nesting, consistent with the “breeding plumage” hypothesis.
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