Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Winter Duckfest

Guest post by Dan Weisz

Our Southwest desert is not known for its ducks, but in winter, many “snowbirds” head south to warmer climates. Ducks move into the waters in Tucson including the lakes and ponds at local parks and golf courses. Below are some photos of colorful ducks found this week at Sweetwater Wetlands, Ft. Lowell Park, and a nearby golf course.

Many ducks can be grouped into two categories: either Dabbling Ducks or Diving Ducks.

Dabbling ducks are surface feeders and feed by tipping-up (rear end up) in the shallows of lakes, ponds and marshes for their food. Dabblers are able to fly up off of the water in one bound, rising almost vertically.

Diving ducks dive under the water to find food. Because they are built to dive and swim under water, their feet are further behind them than those of dabbling ducks. That makes diving ducks awkward on land and they need to run along the water’s serface to get airborne.

Dabbling ducks include the common Mallard:

and see him tipped up and dabbling?

Other dabbling ducks include the Green-winged Teal. In most dabbling ducks, their tails are held high above the water.

One more dabbling duck is the American Wigeon. This appears to be a juvenile whose green facial color is just coming in.

And here, another wigeon is feeding along the surface of the water:

Here is a dabbling duck swimming with a diving duck. The Cinnamon Teal (the cinnamon colored male below) is swimming alongside a female Bufflehead Duck. Note how the bufflehead’s tail is almost in the water. She is riding much lower in the water than the teal is. Also, dabbling ducks have larger, “duck-like” bills. Diving ducks often have smaller bills.

Here are two diving ducks side-by-side. A male Ruddy Duck leads the female bufflehead duck. The ruddy duck’s bill has already turned blue in anticipation of breeding season, but his body has not yet turned that beautiful ruddy color. See how he rides low in the water like other diving ducks.

And here is a male and a female Ruddy Duck. The male has a black head and a clean white cheek and the female has a lighter head and a gray cheek with a stripe running through it.

Another swimming bird (but not a duck) frequents Tucson area waters. This is a Pied-billed Grebe. Grebes have lobed toes, as opposed to a duck’s webbed feet, to aid with swimming. They are excellent divers so their feet are placed far back on their body just as diving ducks’ feet are, making it very tough for grebes to walk on land. The word “pied” means two or more colors, and in the summer the pied-billed grebe has a thick black stripe down the middle of his beak. (Remember the Pied Piper of Hamlin, who wore a coat of many colors?)