Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winter Visitors - Freshwater Ducks

We get a pretty exotic mix of waterfowl wintering in the Newport area. Ducks, geese, loons, grebes... It's quite the United Nations of birds around here. So I thought I'd do a brief series of posts about our Winter visitors, starting with the freshwater ducks (and believe me, there's a greater diversity than I'm showing here; these are just the ones I've managed to photograph myself).

From a distance people will often mistake the Green-Winged Teal for an undersized Mallard. But when you actually get close enough, there's a big difference. Aside from the smaller size, the Teal also has a greater variety of color and markings than the Mallard. Of courese, the other way to tell the difference is that around people the Mallards will come right up and cadge a handout, while Teal are content to observe from a distance.

Ruddy Ducks are very small and seem to spend an awful lot of time asleep with their heads tucked under their wings. Have you ever noticed that ducks actually seem to move around from place to place on the water while asleep? Well, Ruddies are masters at it. Of course. come Spring they get a little more active.

Now this fellah is very interesting. A casual glance would ID him as a Mallard, but there's enough odd about him that you'd do a slow take. Yup, that beak is blue. And there's that weird pointy tail. and something's just not exactly right about the colors. That's because this isn't a Mallard; or at least he's not all Mallard. He is, in fact, a Mallard-Northern Pintail hybrid. We call him Blue Beak, and he's been hanging out on Gooseneck Cove the last couple of Winters.

See, here's Blue Beak with a normal Mallard male. Now you can see the actual difference. And it turns out that there are a lot of Mallard mixes with other duck species; Mallards really are terribly promiscuous, and mate outside their species almost as often as they stick to their own kind. It's no coincidence that Mallards are the direct ancestors of the domestic duck.

And speaking of Mallards, in Newport in the Winter they're ubiquitous. Here is a nice Mallard group portrait on the shores of Gooseneck Cove.

Next time we'll look at saltwater ducks (excluding Mergansers).

© 2006, 2008, and 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. My family liked your ducks. We have these same fellows in Minnesota (minus your special blue beak of course-he's something!) We're looking forward to see a merganser! No salt water in the lakes near here.

  2. Wow! Gorgeous photos. I especially like the one of Blue Beak and Regular Mallard together...and the last grouping also. Enjoyed reading the commentary too...

  3. Lovely; nice Theme Thursday photo, too.

  4. super duper! we have a bird sanctuary here and I love going and looking at the water fowl.

    I haven't gotten near close enough though or maybe I need a bigger lens?

    great photos and commentary!

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