Monday, February 23, 2009

Winter Visitors - Saltwater Ducks

Yesterday I showed you freshwater ducks. Today we'll look at saltwater ducks. But first I'd better explain something. The "freshwater" ducks from yesterday can often be found on salt water as well; Mallards are everywhere, for instance. But they are found primarily on fresh water; I've never seen Teal or Ruddy Ducks, for example, floating on anything but fresh water. Today's ducks operate under the same caveat; some of these will be found on both salt and fresh water (American Blacks and Scaup) but all of these will be found primarily on salt water. Onward!

This is a male Bufflehead. I love these little guys. They're very small and very active, and they move so fast they leave a wake. They often gather in large rafts of 50 or more birds, and when they're together like that they're always playing!

These are Harlequin ducks, the male in the foreground and the female in the background. Aren't the male's colors and markings fantastic? These guys are almost as small as Buffleheads and just as playful, especially when they gather in large rafts out on open water.

This is a male Goldeneye. They're about the same size as Harlequins, but they're a lot less gregarious than Harlequins or Buffleheads. I've never seen rafts of them, and I think the largest group of them I've ever seen was three males off Sheep Point (along Newport's Cliff Walk) four years ago. You can see why they're called Goldeneyes!

A male Greater Scaup. These guys can be found in large rafts on open salt water, and individually on freshwater ponds, etc. They're fairly people-shy and stand well off in your presence, but if you're still long enough they'll come at least within telephoto range.

American Black ducks. These are nearly as ubiquitous as Mallards. In fact, they're the same size, hang out with Mallards, and male Mallards often breed with American Black females. So you can imagine the identification issues you can run into in the offspring. But Blacks hang out more often on salt water than Mallards, and actually like to hang out on beaches.

A male Common Eider. Isn't that the oddest beak you've ever seen? These are big birds, not quite Goose size, more the same size as Loons, but definitely bigger than any of the other ducks. Eiders are purely saltwater ducks, and cold saltwater at that. They've been hunted for millennia both here and in Europe for their down (as in eiderdown quilts, pillows, etc.), which is especially adapted to protect them from arctic waters.

This is a female Common Eider. Same weird bill as the male. And look at the patterning on the feathers! These are truly gorgeous birds.

And last but not least, here's a trio of male Ring-Necked ducks. I'm still trying to figure out the name; I've never seen a ring on their necks, but those bills are certainly ringed. And like all the other ducks who winter here, their colors and markings a truly beautiful.

And there are our saltwater ducks. Next will be Mergansers, who although they are ducks, are a different family from the others. And I have a great series of shots of Red-fronted Merganser males going into their mating dance in front of their mates that I captured last Spring that I just have to include. Until then!

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


  1. Are all these in the Newport area! I'll have to look around here to see if there is quite that variety in freshwater brethren.

  2. tut-tut - Yup, these are all in the Newport area, freshwater AND saltwater. And the Mergansers and Geese and Loons and Grebes yet to come. We have the perfect wetland environment here for waterfowl in the Winter and Waders (Egrets, Herons, Ibises, etc.) in the Summer, so we have a lot of diversity year round.

  3. Roy, you are so lucky to get to see such beautiful diversity right where you live. I can't say I know much about ducks, but there used to be many in my area, before the developers arrived. Now I have to travel to find one. It is a pity ... so many strip malls, so little nature.

  4. Once again you have caused me envy. Seeing those beautifully patterned ducks makes me crazy to paint each and every variety...

    So many fabulous places and creatures in this world - thanks for sharing your corner.

  5. ...I'm loving your duck series. I'm weak with waterfowl ID, so you're helping me. You have such variety also. The last little duck with the black and white bill is very striking...they all are for that matter!

  6. See, I never even knew there WERE saltwater ducks. Don't know why I didn't know, but I didn't.

  7. That water looks COLD and blue. Any idea what the temp. is at the end of Feb.?

  8. wonderful! and who knew there were so many different kinds? not this landlubber

  9. Roy, are there any pure white ducks who are saltwater ducks? A friend of mine sent me a picture of an all white duck at a Brooklyn, NY beach, and I'm a bit concerned.