Duck Duck … Goose

Don’t listen to this gull. His day is coming …

No, it’s not that children’s game where you run around the circle identifying your classmates as “ducks” until you choose one as “goose” and all hell breaks loose. Chaos ensues during that game. This one is characterized more by confusion. What in the world am I looking at ?

As I stood at the counter this morning awaiting my second cup of coffee I scanned my bird list. There are so many ducks and geese !! ( I can add a few checks to this list too! )  Considering the number and variety at my usual walk location I’ve decided to do a more broad post this week. For now, I’ll only share a few of the ducks I’ve photographed.

I have met a few new friends at Nisqually over the winter and I am learning so much. I had been focusing largely on the sounds and visual cues to identify birds, but my friend Susan has me considering behavior as well. She wrote me earlier last week:

” In learning about ducks it helped me to understand that they can be categorized into two groups based on their feeding behavior, divers and dabblers.  Dabblers in our area include: Mallards, Gadwalls, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals and American Widgeons.  They feed on vegetation and invertebrates in shallow water and, occasionally, on land. They use their beaks to skim across the surface of the water or submerge their heads and necks with their tails up in the air while feeding.

Diving ducks in our area include: Goldeneyes, Scooters, Buffleheads, Mergansers, Scaups and Ring-necked Ducks. They feed on fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants. 

Once you observe the behavior you can determine which of the two categories the duck is in. That will narrow the field for you to identify the specific duck ”

And then there are the wood ducks. They are considered “perching” ducks. So much to learn !

Here are a few I have photographed this winter. I may revisit a few of these individually over time because there are a hundred things left out for every one thing I’ve shared. So much to learn.

The diving ducks have short bodies, large feet and a lobed hind toe. The typical dive is just 10-30 seconds but they can remain under water for a minute or more. They steer by shifting their head and tail positions. When the dive is complete, they simply relax their muscles and stop paddling to ascend back to the surface.

They feed in brackish or freshwater, actively foraging at all times day or night. They rarely leave the water and the nest is constructed near waters edge. They are sexually dimorphic (two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics) with males showing bolder markings.

Male Surf-Scooter/Diving duck
Ring-necked duck/Diving duck
Common Golden-eye/Diving duck
Female Merganser/Diving duck
Male Hooded Merganser/Diving duck

Dabbling ducks feed mainly on the surface rather than by diving. They typically have flat bills that allow them to feed more quickly. They don’t often dive, but they are the ones with head and neck underwater and butts in the air. Dabblers tend to be very vocal. Mostly you’ll hear the females as the males are largely silent.

Male Northern Shoveler /Dabbler
Female Northern Shoveler/Dabbler
Green-wing Teal/Dabbler
Male Mallard/Dabbler
Female Mallard/Dabbler
American Wigeon/Dabbler

All types of ducks are part of the bird family Anatidae which also includes swans and geese. A baby duck is called a duckling, an adult male is called a drake and an adult female is a hen. A group of ducks can be called a raft, a team or a paddling.

Ducks have a special gland positioned near their tails, called the preen gland. This gland produces an oil, which ducks rub over their feathers with their beaks to maintain the waterproof effect. This oil creates a protective barrier that stops feathers becoming waterlogged. When diving ducks compress their outer feathers, their bodies remain mostly dry underneath.

Ducks are monogomous for a season but do not mate for life. Once mating has occurred the hen keeps the nest and raises the ducklings.

A disturbing thing I learned about their mating ritual is that it is not all dips and fluff and feather displays. The male mounts the female and forces the bill of the female under water. Often a team of unpaired males will pursue a single female to force copulation. It is physically harmful to the females often resulting in drowning. Good gawd.

Male and female Wood Ducks/Perching

Perching Ducks are so called because they like to perch high in trees beside the water. They nest in tree cavities and have strong claws to help them grip. They prefer a habitat of wooded lakes and rivers. Often they will nest in boxes built in these areas for just that purpose. Wood ducks are stunning to see in the lake coves near Juanita Bay.

Greater white-fronted goose

Greater White-fronted Geese forage in small groups in agricultural fields (like at Nisqually) and on lakes, often with other geese. They are frequently the first to flush when disturbed by eagles and fly in circles before coming back down. During migration groups fly in “V” formation or in single file. I’ve only seen one at Nisqually and it stood out from the cacklers it was hanging out with.

Just me. Definitely a Dabbler …

Thanks again for joining me here. Happy Friday !

12 Comments on “Duck Duck … Goose

  1. I always look forward to your blog! Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Be safe and well.

    • I’m so glad you’re still checking in, Sarah ! Thank you for sharing this space with me. Much different than my “other life”. ❤

  2. Excellent blog! Great information and fabulous photos!

    • Thanks for writing, Gretchen. It amazes me every day how much I have to learn. So many subtle differences in each species of birds. I like to think of myself as more naturalist than anything but the camera has proved to be a godsend !

  3. Thanks for that fascinating information. I feel so ignorant. I will be 73 in a couple months and have never heard of any of this about ducks. For an animal that is so common among us I would think at least a bit of that would have been common knowledge. Amazing photos as usual.

    • Thank you so much for writing. It seems every day I learn something new about these beautiful creatures I encounter. In a way, it is enough to enjoy them visually and just leave it at that. But to understand them … that’s powerful !

  4. I walk almost every day with Susan and learn something new. Your post will go into a read-it-and-relearn the concepts file. Thanks for teaching in my learning style. Your photographs, as always, are stunning!

    • Thanks, Keitha. Keeping this committment to myself has proved fruitful, although once you start investigating behavior and ritual there is a limitless supply of anecdotal things of note. I stand to learn a lot this year ! Thanks for writing !

  5. Kinda defeats the purpose of reproduction if the male suitor drowns the hen. Thank you for all the great info–I’ll be watching for the categories of ducks. I wondered how I’d ever learn them all.

    • Right ? I envision roving gangs of unpaired ducks. Eesh. Nature. Thanks so much for writing. I didn’t even scratch the surface on these ducks, but I still learned a lot !

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