Winter is a great time to dust off your bird books and learn a little more about the ducks that we see here each winter. In the summer we have very few kinds of ducks here, mostly mallards, black ducks and a few wood ducks. But in the winter we have lots of ducks, both the dabblers, which, well, dabble and mostly for vegetarian fare and the diving ducks that dive for fish or shellfish. These winter ducks nest much farther north than here but come south for open water, warmer air and a steady food supply.
One of the more common birds we see here each winter is the common eider. They arrive in huge flocks and settle into various areas around Cape Cod Bay wherever they can find good eating, which for them means good mussels. Smaller groups hang around the south side and in some of the protected harbors but you can find thousands and thousands of them in the bay, often around the canal entrances.
Another common winter visitor that can be found in both fresh and salt water areas is the red breasted merganser. They are often sporting punk “hair-dos.” These are fish eaters and if you get a close look you can see they actually have serated bills, all the better to catch quick moving fish.
Buffleheads are some of my favorite ducks. They are small and perky and have the amazing ability to silently disappear and reappear without warning. Now you see ’em, now you don’t….They can easily be found in ponds but also in protected salt water beach areas and marshes.
One of our most lovely winter visitors is a dabbler called a gadwall. These ducks are shy, as you can see in the photo–they are trying to leave me behind as quickly as possible! They have an elegant plumage, almost like a tweed coat. Look for them in large flocks of ducks in ponds or marshes. Not uncommon but shy, so you have to be quick to see them.
I’ll add more ducks over the next few weeks but this will get you started if you haven’t already been enjoying the winter duck show.