Sunday, February 25, 2018

Duck Duck Goose

This winter I have tried to pay more attention to all the  Anseriformes in Oregon during the winter.

Anseriformes includes ducks, geese and swans.  Oregon has seen 50 different species as of Feb of 2018  (OBA checklist, if I can count correctly).

I have tried to throw together some fun facts about these birds.

Most geese and swan mate for life, while most male ducks leave the nesting area soon after eggs are laid and does not help rear the ducklings.  Most ducks find new mates each year.

One theory as to why geese and swans mate for life is the males are better able to fight off predators, thus the males stick around.  

You never know if you are looking at a family group, but these snow geese were hanging out together on Svenson Island in Columbia County.  The darker birds appeared to be first-winter geese.  I would not be surprised if the adult goose, the one actually looking out for danger, is a parent. I watched them for about 15 minutes, the younger geese rarely took notice of me.  It takes longer for a goose than a duck to sexually mature, and it is very common to spot family groups moving about large geese flocks.  BTW ducks and geese have 2.5 times better eye sight than we do, that is why they spot you so easily.

Deschutes River State Recreation Area is a nice spot to get close to wild geese.  I tried to find pairs of mated geese wandering around in the flock. Not sure if this was a pair or not, but they were hanging out together.

This young goose, note the smaller rounded feathers on the back, was loosely following the above pair, perhaps it was their youngster for this year.

Young ducks seem to be more on their own during the first winter. 

Ducks are a bit unusual in that most find mates during the fall and winter.  Usually dabblers find mates before diving ducks.  So they are very busy out courting during the winter months.  

Advantages to finding a mate early for the female are possibly:  the paired ducks are dominant over unpaired ducks, so the male allows the female access to the best food, the female can concentrate on building up fat reserves for the nesting period, they can get right to nesting once they arrive on their nesting areas (early nesters are shown to be more successful than later nesters), and since male ducks tend to out number female ducks, the males get a better chance of finding a female.

Updated photo from 3/4/18:  I canoed over to Sundial Island in the Columbia River, lots of dabblers were hiding in the flooded willows.  Vast majority, like these Mallards, appeared to be paired up with mates. This included, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallards, and Northern Pintails.  The diving ducks, goldeneye and Bufflehead also appeared to be in pairs.

I noticed this group of Hooded Mergansers on Sauvie Island, I was seeing if any males were around.  Hooded Mergansers form their mating bonds in fall, the male is one of the first to leave its mate when eggs are laid in March-April. So perhaps the males have already left?  I am not sure if any of these mergansers are first-year male or first-year females that are not breeding this year, but I found only one adult Hooded Merganser in the area that day, despite all the charming females.

Ducks are either dabblers or divers, they go tail-up to feed or dive under the water.  These Northern Pintails and Mallards are dabbling.

Northern Shoveler feed by dabbling and diving.  They also are known to get in a group and spin about on the pond like a phalarope to bring food to surface.  This pair was feeding at Wapato Access on Sauvie Island.  Out at the Reeder Road observation deck, I saw a group of over twenty shoveler all spinning about feeding.

Some diving ducks keep their wings tucked in as they dive, others use their wings in their dive. These Lesser Scaup were diving out at the Sandy River, you can see they keep wings tucked in close to body and propel themselves underwater with their feet.  They do a quick wing squeeze just before diving to expel air from the feathers.

Seaducks are divers as well, they usually use their wings, this Steller's Eider is opening her wings as she dives off Seaside, Oregon.

If a dabbling duck is unable or unwilling to dive down for food, one strategy I noticed is to let another good diver go get food for them.  Here is a video of American Wigeon hanging out with American Coots in the Columbia River up near Rufus, Oregon.  I observed some wigeon steal food right from the coots beaks.  Note what the wigeon does when it sees the coot dive.  Many wigeon were doing  this exact same behavior.

Canvasbacks have special muscles and bills for diving down to the bottom and sticking the bills into the mud to root out tasty food. Thus you often see Cans like these with mud on their faces, these were at Svenson Island in Clatsop County.

Dabbling ducks are structured slightly different than diving ducks.  Dabblers have larger wings,  legs located more centrally on the body, and (for their size) smaller paddles (feet).  Dabblers when standing on land, or a log have more of a horizontal posture.

Diving ducks, like this Common Goldeneye, have their legs farther back on the body, so they can swim easier underwater.  They have a tougher time walking on land. You can see how upright they stand due to leg placement.

Identifying ducks in the air can be a challenge.  If you look for structure and very basic color patterns though you will be well on your way.

Mallards are very big ducks with large, long wings. Their dark breasts stand out.  They fly with slightly slower wing beats than other ducks.

Northern Pintail have long thin necks and pointed tails. Usually they are easy to spot.  But at a great distance it can be tough.  What they also have are long narrow wings, like terns or a gull.  So look for a duck with gull wings.

Northern Shoveler fly with a slight bend in their neck, big bills seem to be pointed downward.

Can you find the Northern Shovelers below?  How about the Mallards from the Pintails?

Diving ducks have smaller more compact wings for their body size.  They are more powerful flyers than dabbling ducks and can travel at great speeds.  I tried to get good videos of flying divers compared to dabblers, but will need to work on that.

Another point is that dabblers can jump right into the air from the water, the diving ducks need a bit of a run to get airborne.  Wing shape and size seem to be the difference.

Here is an interesting, perhaps to some, paper on Duck Flight

I hope to add more ducks in flight as I get them.  But a few tips:

Gadwall:  Look for the white speculum and white bellies.

American Wigeon:  the males flash tons of white as they fly, more than any other dabbler.

Hope you enjoyed fun with ducks 1.0.  Will add more as I get them!

For more info and my references other than my personal observations:

Reeber, S. 2015. Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia. Princeton: Princeton University Press


1 comment:

  1. Swans are incredibly graceful to watch and geese always look so confident, even when people are around or they are crossing the road.