Archive for Dabbling Ducks

Wood Duck juveniles 9/4/18

There are many drab young ducks around ponds and wetlands this time of year, but it’s only the young Wood Ducks sporting that bold white eyeliner. Within a day of hatching, the ducklings climb up to the nest opening and . . . jump. Often nests are built directly over water, but suitable cavity nests are rare, and many wind up being some distance away. A lot of a Wood Duck’s diet is found by foraging on land—seeds, berries, acorns, insects, as well as by dabbling for underwater shoots and aquatic invetebrates in the shallows. They get their name from the claws on their feet, which unlike all other North American ducks, allows them to perch in trees.


American Wigeon drake 1/25/18

American Wigeon are alternatively known as “Baldpates” for the drake’s ivory crown, or “Bluebills” for the pale blue bill found in either sex, or “Poachers” for their habit of hanging out with diving ducks who sometimes bring tasty vegetation to the surface. They are dabbling or puddle ducks that don’t dive but “tip” to reach underwater for growing shoots, and they’ll also forage on land for waste grains. We see them in winter and during migration when many travel to the east coast. In recent decades their breeding range, which historically extends from Hudson Bay west to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is expanding eastwards.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Wood Duck drake, 1/7/17


Wood Ducks are year round birds in their southern range but here in the Northeast they typically have to migrate far enough south to find open fresh water once winter temps fall below freezing. But not all do, some rivers stay open as well as the tidal edges near the coast leave a few shallow places that stay ice-free enough to support a few intrepid pairs. This drake and its mate have found a duck pond in York where food is supplied for Mallards and geese, and the water is artificially kept moving and open with pumps so that only the edges freeze up. Wood Ducks don’t seem to migrate much farther south than necessary, and are among the very first migrants to return with the spring thaws.


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