Rejoice —Ducks Are Back!

Ducks are awesome. We, in Chautauqua County, are so fortunate to have fabulous locations to view them. My favorites are the Jamestown Audubon, Chautauqua Lake, Barcelona Harbor in Westfield and Dunkirk Harbor. Every Saturday, when I eat breakfast at the Dutch Village, I also drive around Clymer Pond. Mostly, we have Canada geese there. But we do get some ducks, also.

On Nov. 9, William Watson, a fabulous birder from the Buffalo Ornithological Society observed at Barcelona Harbor, 625 red-breasted mergansers, 107 horned grebes, and 28 double-crested cormorants. They’re not ducks, but he also found there three common loons, an immature bald eagle, about 600 bonaparte’s gulls and a Great Black-backed gull cross with a Glaucous gull hybrid. He has named that bird “The Beast.” It is huge.

Then, at Dunkirk Harbor, besides some of those species, he saw 170 bufflehead, 280 American coots, five black scoters, 18 dunlin, 14 great blue herons, and three more bald eagles.

Chautauqua Lake provided great sights too. There were 31 tundra swans, 50 American coots, 40 redhead and 21 ruddy ducks, and four common loons. Good birding, Mr.Watson.

Let’s just talk about some of those ducks he observed. First, the ruddy duck. This is not very big, just about 15 inches long and with a wingspread of about 22 inches.

It molts twice a year. In September, it develops a brownish winter plumage with very fine bars. In April, it sheds its winter plumage to replace it with a reddish-chestnut color. The clincher in identifying it is its blue bill that it only has in the summer. All year long, it has a dark capped head with white cheeks. The male cocks up its tail which it spreads.

Next, the red-breasted merganzer. I’ve discussed it before. However, I found another book, “Audubon Water Bird Guide” by Richard H. Pough. It really covers bird behavior well.

Mostly, you would find this on the shores of salt water, inlets, mouths of rivers, and in salt marshes creeks and channels. Then, some spend their winters on the Great Lakes. Others stop on inland lakes and rivers during migration. As Watson observed, these birds sometimes form long lines and together force a school of fish to shallow waters, so that they are more easily caught. Besides its diet of mostly fish, it also eats crayfish and marine crustacean.

Nesting takes place on the ground under thick cover, under a log, or along shorelines. Inland look for the nests near rivers and ponds, also along shores, and on small islands. The nest is just a depression in the sand, filled with down. About nine olive-buff colored eggs are laid.

How big is this bird’s range? Very big. It includes Arctic Ocean shores in North America, Europe, Asia, central Greenland, Baffin Island, Hudson Bay, Mackenzie, and from Alaska to Maine, Michigan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Europe south to northern Germany, central Russia, and here in New York. That’s a pretty large range.

What wildlife feeds on ducks? The duck is too fast for the bald eagle, but if one is not healthy, as it would be if it were crippled, sick, or had lead poisoning, the eagle chase it until it became exhausted. Maybe one-third of ducks shot by hunters are left in the wild. The eagle takes advantage of those.

Another enemy of the duck is the gyrfalcon. If its preferred diet of the lemming or arctic hare is not abundant, it will on birds and ducks, especially in summer.

If you can’t reach me at home, I’m out duck watching. Hope to see you there, too.