Wetlands in the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region (UMRGLR) must annually sustain populations of migrating waterfowl from the mid-continent of North America. We used multi-stage sampling to estimate plant and invertebrate food biomasses (kg/ha) for ducks in 3 wetland habitat types at 6 stop-over locations in the UMRGLR during 2006 and 2007. Total biomass was greatest in palustrine emergent (PEM; = 208 kg/ha, SE = 23, median = 120), followed by palustrine forested (PF; = 87 kg/ha, SE = 7; median = 43), and lacustrine–riverine (LR; = 52 kg/ha, SE = 7; median = 27) wetlands. Ducks that foraged in forested and LR wetlands encountered the least food abundance during spring in the UMRGLR. Our estimates of food abundance were the lowest reported among other landscape scale surveys from mid-continent North America. About 1 in every 5 PEM wetlands and over half of our PF and LR wetlands that we sampled contained <50 kg/ha of food, suggesting many had little or no forage value to ducks during spring. Biomass of plant foods generally exceeded invertebrate biomass in all habitat types, although invertebrate biomass estimates exceeded plant biomass in 8 of 29 sites when considered by wetland type and year. Total food biomass estimates varied widely ( = 6–425 kg/ha) between years and among habitats; thus, using global arithmetic means to estimate food abundance for conservation planning obscures fine scale temporal and spatial variation that may be necessary for management on local and sub-regional levels. Distributions of food biomass estimates were right-skewed, causing us to question whether arithmetic means realistically represent levels of food abundance that all ducks encounter during spring migration. Alternative measures of central tendency (e.g., median) may be more biologically realistic, particularly if spring-migrating ducks are not distributed in an ideal-free manner with respect to food abundance. Future research should determine how ducks distribute themselves in relation to variation in food abundance in space and time during spring migration to strengthen the biological approach to conservation planning in non-breeding Joint Venture areas of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.