A free-ranging Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) population was investigated during winter (December–January 1996–1999) below the Garrison Dam, North Dakota, USA, to relate diet to gut morphology variation in males. Four explanatory variables (fish consumption, male age, winter, and body size) were evaluated as to whether they influenced five response variables associated with gut characteristics of Mallards. Response variables were lower gastro-intestinal tract mass (LGIT), dry liver mass, dry gizzard mass, small intestine length, and ceca length. Diets of Mallards were comprised primarily of Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) and concomitantly variation in gizzard mass was small. LGIT mass of juveniles was larger than that of adults, greater for those that consumed fish, and greater during the coldest and snowiest winter. Liver mass and small intestine length of Mallards that consumed fish were greater than those that did not. Mallards may maintain lengthy intestines to increase digestive efficiency. Gut size variation was not entirely attributable to dietary composition but also influenced by body size and environmental conditions such that over-winter survival is maximized.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1