While Mallards are a familiar year-round sight in almost every body of water, the turn of the season brings many northern species to our relatively more temperate shores. Some species, such as the Green-winged Teal and the Northern Pintail, prefer to overwinter on fresh water, seeking areas with much vegetation both for feeding and hiding.
Others, such as the Hooded Merganser, are less picky, and can be found both inland and along the coast. This species, boldly decked out in black and white with a glaring yellow eye, feeds underwater on fish and aquatic insects.
Conversely, the Long-tailed Duck and both Greater and Lesser Scaup exclusively spend their winters on salt water. While a winter boat trip is easiest way to get great views of these marine species, a high powered spotting scope can also do the trick from shore.
While experienced birders enjoy duck’s bold colors and behavioral quirks, beginning birders may appreciate them even more. Most ducks are large and brightly patterned, making them generally easy to spot. Furthermore, they frequently travel in sizeable flocks and are usually found on rather open bodies of water.
Identification challenges are less prevalent than other families of birds, and most individuals linger long enough in an area for detailed observation. Also, because ducks are highly migratory, be sure to always keep an eye out for an unusual species.
Ducks from both the western United States and Europe regularly occur in our region, and it falls to the sharp eyed observer to pick the visitor out from the usual suspects. So, take a few hours this weekend to enjoy these colorful winter visitors.
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