A Different Duck, Indeed
In the last post we highlighted several other species of ducks that seasonally pass through Duck Creek. As winter’s grip marks the increase of Mallards and decline of early migrants, we had another unique visitor to the area. This weekend a hunter harvested a bird that is quite foreign to our neck of the woods.
Formerly known as Oldsquaw, Long-tailed Ducks are birds of the artic. They aren’t dabbling ducks like Gadwall, Pintail, or Mallards. While they do dive for their food, they aren’t classified as diving ducks like Redheads, Ring-necks, or Canvasbacks. Long-tailed Ducks are considered sea ducks along with several species of Eiders and Scoters.
Far From Home
These birds nest along the arctic coasts and within the matrix of wetlands scattered throughout the tundra of northern Canada. Its breeding range crosses over with the Eastern Prairie population of Canada Geese along the Hudson Bay. This sub-species of Canada Geese also migrate south through Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri and can be harvested by Missouri waterfowl hunters starting this Thursday, 28th. If this winter is hard, the Canada Goose hunting could be quite good. However, no matter the winter weather, harvesting an Oldsquaw in Missouri is truly a rare event.
Most of the population isn’t found close to here any time of the year. Instead, when the mercury drops these hardy ducks typically wind up in one of three locations; either on the Pacific Coast, Atlantic Coast, or the Great Lakes. A few may show up on the Gulf Coast, but these are typically isolated events. Granted, as we noted earlier this fall (Bird’s Eye-View post), to get from Manitoba to Louisiana you have to cover some different terrain and adequate wetlands can be hard to come by. Sometime last week this particular bird chose to stop in at Duck Creek Conservation Area in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway.
Waterfowl hunters know that weather can have a great impact on the distribution of birds. Committed bird watchers have also learned this lesson. In fact, this isn’t the first time we’ve posted article about harboring a bird from a distant wetland complex. During the spring of 2011 strong winds from the south blew up a different feathered friend (Spoonie Sighting post). With the arctic air masses that continue to sweep down from the north, it isn’t hard to imagine how this sea duck wound up a little off course and this far south.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a couple other cool facts about these birds. First of all, the drake has a long sprig or tail feather that resembles a drake pintail, hence the new name. Additionally, these ducks are phenomenal divers and can go down 200 feet to find their next meal if they have too. Another unique attribute is their variable plumage. Most other duck species molt twice a year and switch from their basic plumage to breeding plumage for a short time in the summer. Not Long-tailed Ducks, they have four distinct plumages which are achieved as they partially molt their feathers through the year. For this reason, Long-tailed Ducks can look quite different from one bird to the next and from one season to the next. At any rate, these are definitely different ducks and in my book pretty darn cool.
Whether you are in the blind this week, in a goose field, or around the dinner table and running low on conversation, perhaps this article can help you with a little turkey talk. Thanks for checking in, travel safe, and enjoy the holiday.