Archive for Diving Ducks

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.


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.


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.


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.


Bufflehead female 1/22/17

Hen Buffleheads are even smaller than the shiny-headed drakes, with a dusky gray body and a white cheek patch. First year birds of both sexes look much like her, except the cheek patch is slightly larger in the immature males. In the breeding season, territorial disputes between females with young sometimes results with the winning female keeping most or all the young. I love how Buffleheads ski in for a long landing, but when taking off they’ll jump straight into the air.


Long-tailed Duck pair 1/13/17


Usually when writing a blurb for a Birdaday photo, I go to a few websites for background info and today’s no different. Everywhere I go for this bird the very first thing I come across is “. . . formerly called Oldsquaw” and “. . . once known as Oldsquaw,” as if people don’t call them “Oldsquaw” anymore. While lots of birders do use the politically correctified name “Long-tailed Duck” and nothing else, in my experience most regular folk talking about these doll-like winter diving ducks (including many hardcore birders) still use the name “Oldsquaw” regularly. The American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU) formally changed the name in 2000 claiming it was to conform to “worldwide use” (by which they really mean British use) and denying political correctness as their motivation. Ok whatever. I use the name Long-tailed Duck in print, but in conversation still refer to them as Oldsquaw more often than not, not seeing or expressing anything derogatory in that use, though I recognize the Algonquin word “squaw” has had many pejorative connotations historically. In this photo, the male is the one in front with the pink bill.


Bufflehead drakes 1/10/17


These highly active and small diving ducks of the Goldeneye family are common in New England tidal waters from October to April, but you’d never guess that they spend their summers far from here in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska where they commandeer and recycle old flicker nests for breeding. They probably spend as much time underwater foraging for marine invertebrates as they do on the surface. The purple and green iridescent head of the drake is only noticeable when the light is just right, otherwise they are black and white. Females lack the iridescence, are even smaller and mostly dark gray above with lighter undersides, and have a prominent white cheek patch.


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