You’ll notice a new approach with this blog. “Top 10…….. “ that’s because, according to my web designer daughter, one way to increase your blog hits, go viral, become an influencer and earn millions, is to start with “the top 10″. Plus, using “10“, not “ten”, will add to my fortune.
One rainy morning in February, my wife Shannon suddenly announced, “You should write a blog post about ducks”. Well, that sounds about as interesting as writing about Bert’s paper-clip collection, (Sesame Street). However, on reflection, it’s true that I am often asked, “hey, I saw this duck, it was black, with a white head and kept diving under the water, what was it?”
OK, ducks it is. Living in the Lower Mainland of BC, there are around ten ducks that I see regularly on my rounds of the local lakes, ponds, and beaches at Boundary Bay and Crescent Beach.
Two Types of Ducks
Ducks are divided into dabblers and divers. Dabblers float on the surface and pop their head underwater for food, but don’t generally dive for it. These are the generic ducks that we feed and watch as they stick their butts in the air to grab a sinking seed.
The diving ducks dive under the surface for their food, so you’ll see them go down and reappear a few seconds or minutes later, often sporting food.
My top 10 list contains five of each, which is nice and symmetrical and corresponds with the commonest ducks that I see on my rounds. In the bird world, it’s the drakes who are decked out in their finest plumage with bright colours and ‘tude. Females are harder to differentiate between species so let’s focus mostly on the males.
1. Mallards – Mallards are the garden-variety ducks you see everywhere. They range worldwide.
Male mallard ducks are commonplace so we take them for granted. They are actually very handsome waterfowl with colourful plumage. They have a distinctive green head with a white collar around their neck, and a bright yellow bill. Their chest is a rich chestnut brown colour, while their wings are predominantly grey with black stripes. The body and tail feathers are a mix of grey and white, and the rump is black.
During breeding season, male mallards have an even more impressive appearance. Their green head becomes more iridescent and their chestnut breast becomes brighter. They also have a thin white ring around their neck and a curling black feather, called a drake feather, above their tail.
They’ll eat most things you throw at them, sometimes to their detriment. I still see people feeding ducks bread, which is not a good food source, unless you want photos of fat pre-diabetic ducks.
2. Wood Ducks – Very often, among all those mallards, you’ll see some fancier, very decorated birds. These are the Wood Ducks. They are quite different from Mallards and very handsome.
The male wood duck is a flamboyant creature that seems to have been painted by a master artist with a myriad of colours. Its head has a glossy green crest that extends to the back of its neck, while its face is marked by a white stripe that runs from the eye to the nape of the neck. The eyes themselves are ruby-red, and stand out against the green head.
The breast and sides of the male wood duck are marked with bold, iridescent colours that are hard to miss. The chest is a deep purple-brown, while the sides are adorned with an intricate pattern of white, black, and metallic green feathers. The back is a mosaic of browns, greys, and black, and the wings are marked with a striking blue and green iridescence.
Wood ducks tend to be more solitary and the females are also striking, albeit more subtly.
3. Green-Winged Teal – This is a smaller bird not usually found in big flocks. They have a brown head with a large green slash on each side and a mottled grey body. There’s also a small green feather at the base of the wings – thus the name – although you don’t always see it. Like a pre-schooler playing in the mud, Green-winged Teals love grovelling in the mudflats when the tide’s out. However they also show up, nice and clean, in lakes and ponds.
In the winter, two common “dabblers” show up to dramatically increase the local duck populations.
4 – American Wigeon – These birds start to arrive in large flocks around late September. American Wigeon can be recognized by a white band running along the top of the head, with an iridescent green slash on either side. They hang around all winter, dabbling the time away.
When you are watching American Wigeon you’ll often see occasional males with tan-coloured heads instead of green. These are Eurasian Wigeon who spend the winter here – let’s call them 4(a). Eurasian Wigeon like to hang out with their American cousins and occasionally interbreed, although not commonly because breeding takes place in spring after they return to their summer residence in Northern Eurasia.
5. Northern Pintail – Northern Pintails arrive at the same time as the Wigeon. They stand out in a crowd thanks to a long white neck and a light brown upper neck and head with a thin white stripe up each side, going almost to the scalp. Again they’re often in large groups. The females are very “ordinary” and I have trouble picking them out unless they’re hanging out with the boys.
6. Ring-neck Ducks – They definitely look and act differently from dabblers, but they will hang around with them. You’ll often see them dive and bob back up amidst the dabblers. They have a striking bill with a white stripe near the front, a black head and chest with a white abdomen and black wings. Their name Ring-neck Duck comes from a very dull red ring around the neck which is hard to see. They’re the commonest diver that I see locally and it’s often a breeding pair. They are very photogenic and I have a lot of really good photos.
7. Common Merganser – These are larger white birds that hang around away from shore. The males have an iridescent dark green head, with a reddish-orange beak and legs.
Female Common Mergansers are identical except the head is deep tan.
Mergansers are often in small groups and when a fish is caught – often surprisingly large – a squabble ensues while everyone tries to steal it! On one particular day, I witnessed quite a ruckus as they fought over a fish.
8 – Hooded Merganser – Hooded Mergansers are smaller than the Common Mergansers. The males are very striking, with a white head and other decorations. Females are a plain brown colour, with a tuft of feathers behind the head.
Females are seen more often than the males. Hooded Mergansers stay closer to shore, often in small groups, and dive for small fish and crustaceans.
9 – Bufflehead – “Hey, I saw this duck, it was black, with a white head and kept diving under the water, what was it?” The Bufflehead is the main suspect here. They’re small, usually away from shore and dive often, so photos are sometimes difficult. The black parts of the body and head have a beautiful, subtle green iridescence and this together with white areas on the head and body makes for good photos.
10 – Common Goldeneye – This is the last of the ten and he’s a handsome guy, with a white body, black striped wings, a black head with subtle green iridescence, a large white cheek spot and an obvious golden eye, which, with the right photo, is very striking. The Common Goldeneye is the least common duck in this group of birds, nonetheless, they show up regularly and I see them often on my rounds.
There are only five more dabblers in the lower mainland, so you’re already halfway there. For the divers, once you get to the sea shore the list of diving ducks and diving sea ducks, plus the grebes, loons, etc. gets long. However, the above list is definitely “THE TOP 10 DUCKS”, when I’m out and about.
The magnificent Wood duck was recently relegated to second prettiest when we discovered “Trevor”.
Check out our post about Trevor the Mandarin Duck!
Check out our other great articles about birds:
What Makes The Falkland Islands Worth Visiting? (Albatross, penguins, caracaras)
A Cluster of Buntings (Lasuli and Snow Buntings)
A Pleasant Surprise (The Cape May Warbler)
Even More LBJ’s – The Bewick’s Wren (Little Brown Jobs)
Hey! That’s My Fish! (Ospreys in British Columbias)