Archive for Waterfowl

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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Common Merganser female 3/4/17

Common Mergansers are large diving ducks of mostly freshwater rivers and streams, larger than their Red-breasted cousins of coastal waters, though the two species can both be found in tidal inlets where they can be confused. The sharply defined white chin patch, which you can just make out here, is diagnostic for the female. Males have white bodies with mostly white wings, black backs, and black heads with a green iridescence. Both sexes can raise their head feathers in a crest and like all mergs they have serrated bills to help them grip their slippery prey from which they get the nickname “sawbill.” Duck hunters don’t much care for their fishy-flavored meat.

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Skunkheads 2/7/17

Skunkhead is a nickname for the drake Surf Scoter, one of our common winter seaducks. They are stocky ducks with peculiarly bulbous and colorful bills. Females are browner and drabber with paler white patches behind the bill and eyes, and their bills not as swollen or colorful but a monochromatic dark gray. They breed on freshwater Arctic lakes and wetlands between Alaska and Labrador, and winter along the East, West, and Gulf coasts where they dive for mollusks and crustaceans.

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Green-winged Teal drake 2/1/17

Green-winged Teal are North America’s smallest dabbling ducks, often seen in shallow tidal waters, bogs, swamps, ponds, and other sheltered wetlands, but not often on larger bodies of water. Their breeding range extends across northern North America from the Aleutian Islands to Labrador, but here in New England they can be found year round.

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