Waterfowl: ‘Tis the Season

By Derek Stoner, Family Program Coordinator

Two girls for every guy? For waterfowl, its usually more like two guys for every girl! Hooded Mergansers by Derek Stoner.

March is perhaps the most critical month in the world of waterfowl.  Food resources are at the lowest point of the whole year, birds are stressed from a  long and cold winter, and Mother Nature is suddenly telling them to travel long distances.

What’s this all about?  It’s mating season!  Male ducks (drakes) are vying for the attention of the females (hens), trying to impress the girls by showing off their bright colors and performing elaborate displays.  Throwing the head back, puffing the chest, quacking loudly– all part of the male ducks repertoire of “show off” moves to impress the ladies.  They have a lot of competition, too, because there are always more males than females in waterfowl populations.

A handsome drake American Wigeon shows off his "bald pate" or white crown patch. Image by Derek Stoner.

March is also the month when many waterfowl begin the long journey back to their breeding grounds.  For Snow Geese, that may mean a journey of several thousand miles to the Arctic Tundra.  For Northern Shovelers and American Wigeon, that may mean flying northwest to the northern plains, where they nest in Prairie Pothole country.

A beautiful hen Wood Duck waiting for the attentions of the rainbow-hued male Wood Duck. Image by Derek Stoner.

For other waterfowl, like Wood Ducks, that may mean a short trip from the southeastern United States to breed in a marsh in Delaware.  The first Wood Ducks are just starting to arrive back in Delaware right now, so keep an eye out for these colorful ducks along local streams and ponds in coming weeks.

There’s lots of great waterfowl to watch in the month of March, with up to 35 species of swans, geese and ducks passing through Delaware on their northward migration.  Stay tuned for reports from upcoming DNS trips as we pursue the wonderful world of waterfowl.

Register for the March Migrants and Breakfast at the Dupont Environmental Education Center – March 5; Delaware Duck Day – March 7; Chester County Waterfowl and Country Tour – March 10; and Wolves and Waterfowl (family program) – March 14.  For more information on these programs, click here.

1 thought on “Waterfowl: ‘Tis the Season”

Leave a Reply