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Friday, March 11, 2011

Waterfowl Identification

For birders in the mid-Atlantic region, March is well-known as spring duck migration season.  Many species of ducks that either overwintered in the area or farther south are heading north through the region.  Many species of ducks and other waterfowl fly past quickly sometimes providing only a quick glance.  Here are some waterfowl flight photos, most of which I observed and photographed during the winter of 2010/2011.

Although seen through thick fog, these Snow Geese are clearly identifiable by the black wingtips.  These migrant geese are becoming increasingly common in this region during the winter and spring.  As they fly, Snow Geese make squeaky honks and whistled notes.  This photo was taken at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, a major Snow Goose congregation area.

Snow Geese often travel in unorganized flocks.  Unlike the structured "V" flight formation of the Canada Goose, Snow Geese fly loosely together or in a "U".

Canada Geese are very common.  They are around all year and are easily found near most bodies of water.  Unlike the Snow Goose, the Canada Goose has solid colored wings and a grayish brown body.  The neck is back with a characteristic white neck/chin marking.

As mentioned before, Canada Geese often fly in an organized "V" formation.

Tundra Swans, like these four, are always a treat to find during migration.  This species tends to congregate in reservoirs and lakes, so it is difficult to find just a few.  This photo was taken at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Pennsylvania, where there is a reservoir that attracts tens of thousands of Snow Geese and thousands of Tundra Swans.

 Although most commonly encountered on the large bodies of water where they rest, Tundra Swans can occasionally be seen flying overhead.  Since these swans are not nearly as numerous as the geese previously mentioned, this is an unusual sight in most places, but be sure to check out any interesting-looking "goose" flock.  Tundra Swans make a series of high-pitched honking and rolling calls.  This photo was taken over my yard in Kunkletown, PA, where I almost dismissed this as a Snow Goose flock until I heard them calling.

Common Mergansers are a common sight on rivers and lakes during the winter and early spring.  The males of these long-necked, long-billed ducks are easy to identify in flight by their white bodies, dark heads, and flashing black-and-white pattern on the top of the wings.  This photo was taken at Green Lane Reservoir, where many Common Mergansers winter on the lake if it does not freeze completely.

Female Common Mergansers are not as distinctly patterned as the male, but the white patch on the wing and long neck (for a duck) make the identification fairly straightforward.  These birds were photographed at Middle Creek WMA.

Like the Common Merganser, Common Goldeneyes are diving ducks.  This species is often found on lakes as well as on rapids in rivers.  The head shape, stubby body, and white and black patterning on the wing makes these easy to identify.  The white spot on the male's face may be another key to identification.  Upon looking at this picture, you may notice that the center bird is different than the rest.  This Harlequin Duck was associating with these Common Goldeneyes in the Delware River near Riverton, PA.  The face pattern on this species is very distinctive.

Compared to the "diving" ducks mentioned above, the head shape on this species is different.  Based on the gray head and pattern that is visible on the head, these ducks can be identified as American Wigeon.

One of the more distinctive ducks in flight is the Northern Pintail.  The males are obvious with brown heads and a white line along the neck.  The long, pin-like tail is also distinctive.  Females (second from left) are plain brown and similar to other female ducks.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post; thank you for sharing. This is extremely helpful for birders of all experience.

    Much appreciated.