Archive for Waterfowl

Wood Duck pair on ice 12/20/17

Wood Ducks can be found year round in many parts of New England, so long as they can find open water in swamps, marshes, and other wooded wetlands, but many of them migrate farther south for the winter.  Unlike other ducks, they have clawed toes that enables them to climb out of deep nest cavities as ducklings, as well as perch high up in trees as adults. They’ve made a remarkable recovery from overhunting in the last century, helped in large part by humans providing nest boxes for them.

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American Black Duck pair 12/15/17

Black Ducks are closely related to Mallards with whom they often hybridize. They are a favored game bird east of the Rockies, breeding in Boreal Canada from Labrador to Saskatchewan and wintering in the southeastern states from Texas to Florida. In the southern Great Lakes, New England and much of the Atlantic seaboard they are year round birds. They look much like a very dark version of the female Mallard but you can tell the sexes apart by bill color. Males have yellow bills while females have dull green bills that are often speckled. Their iridescent speculum (wing patch) is a blue purple.

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Common Goldeneye drake 11/9/17

Common Goldeneyes are just one of our winter-only ducks, arriving late fall, generally after the Buffleheads, and leaving sometime in April for the rivers and lakes bordering the boreal forests of Canada where they build their nests in tree cavities, usually those made by one of the larger woodpeckers. They winter all across the US and southernmost parts of Canada where there’s open water, either salt or fresh, but especially in protected tidal bays and inlets where they dive for mollusks and crustaceans. Females are not nearly as white as the drakes, with darker bodies, chocolate-colored heads, and a yellowish tip to their dark bills.

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Common Eider drake 10/21/17

Eider drakes are handsome birds, though the chartreuse blush on this one’s head is a bit bleached in the early afternoon light. The boldly dressed males are easily distinguished from the warm and barred browns of females and the even duller juves. Immature males are more pied, but nowhere as dapper as the adult drakes. They are New England’s largest and heaviest duck, feasting on  mussels they tear from the sea bottom and swallow whole, the shells being crushed in their gizzards. Eiderdown is still farmed in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Siberia.

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Hooded Merganser pair 4/9/17

Hoodies are my favorite and the smallest of our 3 sawbill or Merganser species, so named on account of their thin serrated bills adapted for catching slippery fish. Both sexes have crests that can be raised for display, the male’s appearing as a thick stripe when relaxed but becoming an extravagant white hood when raised. The female’s crest is more like a rusty red fan. Early spring is the best time to see them near the coast in freshwater ponds and rivers, they follow the melting ice inland and northwards during migration. They nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers, and sometimes several females will lay eggs in one nest so that a clutch of ducklings can contain several dozen.

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Brant 4/4/17

Brant have similar coloration to their larger Canada Goose cousins, but are shorter necked and shorter-billed and lack the bright chinstraps. The dark-bellied subspecies, winter along the Pacific coasts, while the light-bellied subspecies winter along the Atlantic coasts. Brant of the East Coast like these will migrate northwest to Hudson Bay and then on up to the tundra ponds of the High Arctic. Brant are the most northerly breeding goose, and truly long-distance migrants.

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Northern Pintail drakes 3/6/17

Northern Pintail drakes are distinctively shaped slender ducks with long necks, chocolate heads, and long black central tail feathers. Females are mottled brown, but have the same graceful shape as the males just with shorter tail feathers. In winter they dabble for plants and seeds in shallow waters but during the nesting season their diet shifts to insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. They breed in open wetlands in the northern areas of Europe, Asia, and North America but here in New England they are early migrants.

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