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Duckling mortality at a river weir

Stewart B. Rood, Amber Willcocks


River weirs are low-head dams that dissipate energy by creating hydraulic recirculation zones at their base. These recirculation zones are a major cause of human drownings and have been referred to as “drowning machines”. We observed an event that allowed us to add ducklings to the list of weir victims. As a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) hen and her brood floated over the Calgary weir, the mother flew safely over the hydraulic recirculation. The ducklings drifted into the recirculation and three quickly passed through; four were stalled, repeatedly recirculated, and died. We observed other regional weirs where adult birds commonly flew over the hazard. We did not observe any other waterfowl drifting into recirculation zones, and we found no prior report of this lethal hazard. Although mortality might be rare at each weir, with hundreds of thousands of low-head dams worldwide, the collective hazard could be substantial. Weirs can be designed to eliminate the lethal recirculation zone, and the apparent hazard to ducklings could provide another motivation to redesign or modify these common structures.


Bow River; dams; mortality; waterfowl

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