In Praise of Ducks

mallard-male_portlandor_20100208_lah_8917“Oh, it’s just another Mallard.”

How many times have I said that? As a birder, I’m always looking for the rare bird, the unusual find that will add to my life list. Last month’s Snowy Owl fit the bill—getting such a great view of that magnificent predator was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I just got home from a week in northern Oregon and southern Washington. While I did pick up a couple of new species for my list, I mostly saw ducks. Lots of ducks. Hundreds of ducks. (Did I mention I was in Oregon?)

So—I looked at ducks. Really looked. And you know, ducks are pretty cool!

lesser-scaup_portlandor_20100208_lah_9070I’ve decided that I really like ducks. For one, they’re easy to identify. Yes, sorting out the Greater Scaup in a pond covered with Lesser Scaup can be dicey, but for the most part, a wigeon is different from a merganser, and neither looks like a Gadwall. After struggling with Empidomax flycatchers last summer, this is a relief.

hooded-mergansers-fcnc-2009-01-21-lah-621Also, ducks are easy to see. They don’t hide in thickets the way wrens do. They don’t strain your neck like warblers, flitting around in the highest branches. They just sit out there on the water, in plain view. Even better, they like to hang out in public areas such as your local park. With all the people around, they become pretty tame. You can consult your ID book while they paddle around, knowing that it’s unlikely they’ll fly away before you get a second look.

wood-duck_portlandor_20100208_lah_9031

What I particularly noticed on this trip, however, was how pretty they are. Mallard with that iridescent green head, Shovelers in shades of brick red accented with black and white, the understated elegance of a Gadwall or Scaup—it’s all pretty dazzling when you think about it. And, who could have ever imagined a Wood Duck? Even the females look exotic, with that white eyeliner.

northern-shovelers-flying_ridgefieldnwr-wa_20100207_lah_8654From now on, I’m going to try hard to enjoy whatever birds are around, even if I’ve seen them a hundred times before. Being common doesn’t have to make them less exciting. I still ooh and aah over a crimson sunset. I still think carnations smell wonderful. Chocolate doesn’t lose its appeal just because it’s readily available. And Mallards are pretty spectacular birds. Just look at one!

Photos, in order: Mallard male, Lesser Scaup male, Hooder Merganser pair, Wood Duck male, Northern Shoveler pair.
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2 Responses to In Praise of Ducks

  1. Carey says:

    Wow…what a great variety of ducks! I love to (but rarely get to) see wood ducks and hooded mergansers. There are some very very large male mallards in the pond in Monument Valley Park….any idea what they would be? (Or why they are larger than the others?)

  2. LAH says:

    I don’t know for sure why the Mallards you saw were so big, but I have a guess. Perhaps they’re hybrids. Mallards have been bred to be domestic ducks, such as the all-white ones we sometimes see on farms and in parks. These tame ducks then breed with wild ducks, producing some pretty weird color combinations. I could easily imagine breeding domestic ducks for a larger size, since that would provide more meat us.

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