Getting along with ducks

Last weekend, there were more interesting ducks to be seen! For the first time ever on the island, I saw Ruddy Ducks! I’ve only seen these ducks once before (back in 2016 just outside Kamloops, BC) in the spring when they wore their bright breeding plumage. They are not quite as easy to recognise in their winter plumage, but they are still quite distinct from other ducks with their bi-colourd head, single face strip and upturned tail.

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Ruddy Duck

On the same lake not far away were Lesser Scaups, Mallards and Buffleheads. I was also excited to see a small group of Ring-necked Ducks and a few Northern Shovelers – two other species I don’t commonly see. While Ring-necked Ducks are distinguished from the very similar Lesser Scaup by the white ring around the base of their beak, their name actually refers to a rather difficult to see brown-coloured band around their neck.

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Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck
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Ring-necked Ducks

I’ve only seen Northern Shovelers a handful of times, too, but they are immediately recognisable by their very large beak. To me, they look a little bit like over-sized Mallards. Why is their beak so large, like, well, a shovel? They use their large bill with little tooth-like projections on it to strain food from water. Anything from plants and seeds to crustaceans and other small critters get filtered and eaten (Cornell).

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Northern Shoveler

In a different part of the sanctuary, where water pools up in the winter and spring but is dry in the summer, were more mallards, a few American Coots (though not actually ducks) and a couple more Northern Shovelers. I find it fascinating that so many birds of different species can all be found on one small lake or pond. I suppose its because they each fill and rely on a different feeding niche that they can share a relatively small space.

Northern Shovelers dabble and filter along the surface while American Coots dive primarily for plants, but also the occasional insects. American Coots often capitalise on Mallards and other ducks who disturb plant and animal matter in shallow water with their feet, making it easier for the coot to feed. Meanwhile, the non-picky Mallards are pretty happy eating just about anything that’s around.

Perhaps we humans should take a cue from the animal world and learn to get along despite our differences. To mutually share spaces and resources and, while birds probably don’t do this, to maybe even try to appreciate others’ differences instead of judging them. I mean, if we egotistically think Homo sapiens are the smartest species on earth, why have animals been co-existing peacefully for years, something we have seemingly never been able to achieve since our earliest days?

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Northern Shovelers feeding on the pond

Duck, Duck, Goose, Part 2: mergansers and the Canada goose

Continuing from my previous post on ducks, I’m moving on now to mergansers and yes, the goose.

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Common Merganser (male)
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Common Merganser (female)

Common Mergansers were tricky ones the first time I identified them especially in differentiating them from the Red-breasted Merganser. They swim through the water with amazing agility and such elegance! Larger than the other ducks I’ve talked about, the males have brilliant green heads and a bright orange, slender beak. Living year-round in the Pacific Northwest, they are said to live in mostly freshwater lakes and rivers while rarely being found in ocean or saltwater estuaries.1, 2 I have seen them on the coast here in sheltered waters on numerous occasions.

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Hooded Merganser

Hooded Mergansers are elegant little ducks that are one of my personal favourites. The males have a beautiful white crest which they can collapse with contrasting black colouring. Lucky for me, they live in the Pacific Northwest year-round and inhabit lakes, ponds, estuaries and rivers and nest in empty tree cavities.3, 4 The Seattle Audubon Society lists them as species of concern primarily due to loss of optimal nesting sites and the mature age at which they breed, resulting in smaller populations than many other ducks.5

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Lesser Scaup

A diving duck, the Lesser Scaup is found in freshwater environments more commonly than the Greater Scaup and are abundant across inland waters. They winter in coastal California, the Pacific Northwest through to Florida while mating in the interior BC to Manitoba and Alaska. They look very similar to the Greater Scaup, mainly varying in size so I took an educated guess mine was of the lesser type.6, 7

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Canada Goose

And the Canada Goose, sadly considered a pest in many places, thrives in suburban and urban areas where they often live in year-round despite their migratory roots. They were introduced to these areas by people for hunting as well as being introduced overseas to Europe and New Zealand (Environment and Climate Change Canada). The birds have been culled in Brooklyn and Oregon, New Zealand, Seattle and recently in Victoria, BC. Despite all the issues, I still love them and hope a more humane solution can be found.  For more reading about the Canada Goose, I found this blog post by a Vancouver Island University student to be very well-written and informative.