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Novice and veteran birdwatchers are familiar with the nasally quack we associate with ducks. However, there is more to the duck than meets the eye. There are hundreds of species of duck found worldwide. Here are just ten ducks that you might see when birdwatching in Virginia.
There are two different kinds of ducks. Dabbling ducks stick their heads under the water but do not submerge the rear of the body. Because they don’t need to swim underwater, they have larger Rounder wings that allow for more powerful flight. Dabbling ducks’ wings are powerful enough to take off from the water surface.
Mallard ducks are one of the most iconic and common duck breeds in the United States of America. Almost anyone who knows anything about ducks can identify the striking green feathered head of the male mallard duck. Female Mallard ducks have mottled brown feathers with a patch of iridescent blue feathers on the wing.
Mallard ducks are highly adaptable and comfortable around people. If you have any nearby ponds, you can set out a small structure for them to nest in. They will happily use any structures designed for them, even if they are artificial.
Northern Pintails are slender and graceful. Males have a brown head with gray feathers and a white neck and breast. Females have a brown head with mottled brown feathers on the body. Both sexes have long tail feathers for which they are named.
Northern Pintails are very proficient at walking on land. When they’re not swimming in the shallows of the lakes and ponds far from humans, they can be found grazing on leftover barley and corn on farmlands.
Northern Shovelers have a very distinct broad bill that resembles a shovel. Males have darker green heads with reddish-brown flanks and striking yellow eyes. Females are mottled brown but still retain the distinctive large, broad bill.
Northern Shovelers use their large bill to sift through sand to find crustaceans and other food. The bill of the northern shoveler has over 100 lamellae which allow them to filter out the foods they want to eat from sand and other inedible items.
Blue-Winged Teals are the second most common duck in America. Males have a black head with a distinctive white streak in front of the eye and a brown body with black spots. Females have a similar appearance to female Mallard ducks with a mottled brown coloring. Both sexes have a distinctive pale blue patch on the wings that can only be seen during flight.
Blue-wings teals are very popular amongst hunters. However, the number of birds hunted per year is monitored very closely to ensure the strength of the population.
Wood Ducks have an incredibly striking appearance. Their crested heads accent their intricate plumage. Males have green heads with brownish bodies with white dots and multi-colored wings. The female crest is smaller than the males’ but is still prominent. She has a brown head and brown body with white flecks but retains the multicolored wings.
Wood Ducks have powerful claws that allow them to climb trees. They nested abandoned tree cavities, and their young often have to leap from the trees to the ground when leaving the nest.
Diving ducks fully submerge the body to swim underwater when hunting. Because of the need to maneuver underwater, they have evolved shorter wait here wings that allow for greater swimming capabilities, but it comes at the expense of their flight power. Diving ducks often do not have powerful enough wings to take off from the water and may be seen running along with the water service to gain enough momentum to take flight.
Bufflehead ducks have a very striking appearance. Males have green and purple feathers on the head and neck with a striking white patch on the back of the head. Females have a black head with a white patch behind the eye. Both sexes have a full round head and breast.
Buffleheads picky nesters will only lay eggs inside an abandoned woodpecker cavity. They prefer cavities excavated by Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers but will take to artificial nesting boxes if installed correctly. These ducks are losing their habitat to deforestation.
Canvasbacks have a distinct wedge-shaped head that accentuates their long, dark bills. Males have red-brown heads and piercing red eyes. Females have a light brown head, white flanks, and black eyes.
Canvasbacks rarely make their way onto dry land. They sleep while floating in the water and build their nests in masses of floating vegetation.
The Common Goldeneye is named for its striking yellow eyes. The male features a dark green head and a distinctive white cheek accentuating his sharp yellow eyes. The female’s eyes are a paler yellow and may look white in some lights. Her brown head contrasts with her soft breast and body feathers.
Common Goldeneyes are excellent swimmers that can stay submerged for up to a minute. The biggest threat to the Common Goldeneye’s population is deforestation. Common Goldeneyes often nest in dead trees, and removing dead trees leaves them without a breeding habitat.
The Common Merganser can be identified by its long, slender bill; it helps that the bill is bright orange! Male Common Mergansers have a dark green head that can look like a Mallard duck. Females and non-breeding males have a light brown head and white body.
Common Mergansers are so adept at catching fish that other birds will follow them around to try and steal their catches. It’s not uncommon to see a flock of seagulls tailing a Common Merganser to try to swipe an easy meal.
The Red-Breasted Merganser has a long, slender bill similar to the Common Merganser. However, breeding males have a spiky crest over their green heads.
The Red-Breasted Merganser’s diet is made up mostly of fish. They need to eat 15 – 20 fish daily to sustain their bodies, which equates to almost 250 daily dives while hunting! Hunters don’t usually target Red-Breasted Mergansers because birds who primarily dine on fish tend to taste horrible!
Ducks are one of the most common birds in America. So, it makes sense that they’re a common starting point for novice birdwatchers. That doesn’t mean all ducks are made the same, though. There’s a wide variety of ducks across America that you can see!
When birdwatching, it’s essential to do your best not to disturb the birds. Some of the birds on this list are threatened by human interaction with their habitats, and we want to ensure that they feel safe in the habitats they have left!
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay
Luxifa is a freelance writer with a passion for animal science and technology. She loves to share the world of animal science with people to help them make informed decisions for themselves and their pets. Knowledge is power and she loves to help everyone become the most informed they can be.
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