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The ducks of Zootah!

Hooded Merganzer

Habitat/Range: Hooded mergansers range across the U.S. and Canada. They are found in small ponds and streams during the breeding season and in unfrozen lakes or shallow, protected saltwater bays in the fall/winter. 

Behavior: These diving ducks have a very diverse diet including crustaceans, amphibians, fish, mollusks, insects and vegetation. They live in pairs or groups as large as 40 individuals.

Breeding: Hooded mergansers, as well as many other cavity nesting duck species, practice brood parasitism (a strategy that involves laying eggs in the nests of other birds). Ducklings are born precocial (well developed) and are able to start diving within a day of hatching. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. These ducks used to be over-hunted but populations are now stable. 

Ruddy Duck

Habitat/Range: Ruddy ducks are found in wetlands and reservoirs across the U.S. They mainly breed in the prairie pothole region. 

Behavior: Ruddy ducks are diving ducks that feed on insects, crustaceans, invertebrates, and small amounts of algae and aquatic plants. They are harassed by grebes during the breeding season through a practice called “submarining”. Grebes swim quickly up towards the ducks and strike from underwater. 

Breeding: Ruddy ducks are unique in that they don’t find their seasonal mate until they arrive at their breeding grounds. They build their nests 2 to 10 inches above the water in aquatic vegetation. Females lay 3 to 13 eggs per clutch and have 1 to 3 broods per season. Chicks are born precocial and immediately begin following their mother to forage. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Along with many other duck species, ruddy ducks are heavily reliant on the prairie pothole region of the U.S. Protection of this region from habitat loss and water contamination is crucial for the survival of many waterfowl species. 

White-faced Whistling Duck

Habitat/Range: White-faced whistling ducks are found in tropical regions of Africa and South America. The prefer open water sources with little emergent vegetation. 

Behavior: These ducks are names for their unique whistle and white face. They mainly feed by dabbling but will also swim underwater and catch food as surfacing. 

Breeding: These ducks breed during the wet season and form nests in long grasses, the forks of trees, or tree hollows. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. They adapt very well to man-made bodies of water. 

Wood Duck

Habitat/Range: Wood ducks are found in streams and along the edges of swampy areas across North America. 

Behavior: Wood ducks are dabbling ducks but will occasionally feed by performing short dives. Plant matter makes up about 80% of their diet. 

Breeding: Males and females pair up before traveling to their breeding grounds. They nest in tree cavities and will readily use man-made nest boxes. Females lay 10-11 eggs per clutch and often lay 1-2 broods per season. Ducklings are born precocial and jump down from their nests at just 1 or 2 days old (sometimes from heights of 50 feet!). 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Populations dramatically declines in the late 1800s from over hunting but are now stable. 

Redhead

Habitat/Range: Redheads are found in ponds and streams across North America. They breed mainly in the prairie pothole region. 

Behavior: Redheads feed mainly by dabbling and consume fish eggs, invertebrates, and aquatic plants. They are fast flying, social ducks commonly seen in flocks with other species. 

Breeding: Redheads are seasonally monogamous and pair up in their wintering grounds. Males court females with dramatic head bobs where they throw their heads back so far it nearly touches their tail. Females build circular nests set on a base of underwater vegetation. Once females begin to incubate their eggs, males leave to join all-male molting flocks. Females lay 7 to 8 eggs per clutch which they incubate for 22-28 days. Chicks leave their nests within 2 days of hatching. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. These ducks used to be over hunted but populations are now stable. They aren’t the brightest ducks and will fly straight up to hunting decoys, making them an easy target. 

Canvasback

Habitat/Range: Canvasbacks are migratory ducks found throughout North America. They breed in marshes, small lakes, bays or ponds. They are at home on the water, hardly ever coming to dry land. They prefer bodies of water with lots of emergent vegetation, such as cattails and reed grasses. 

Behavior: Canvasbacks are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animal matter (such as muscles and insects). They are diving ducks and can dive under water as far as 7 feet to feed on plant tubers, or roots. Their scientific species name, valisineria, comes from the scientific name for their favorite food source: wild celery, Vallisineria americana.

Breeding: Male canvasbacks court females by gathering around a single female, lowering their heads, and emitting a “coughing” sound until the she chooses a mate. Females build nests on top of emergent vegetation and add some of their own down feathers on top of the eggs to keep them warm. They lay 5 to 11 eggs per clutch and have one brood per season. The eggs are incubated for 24 to 29 days and chicks leave their nest shortly after hatching. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Populations were low enough in the 1980s to list these ducks as species of special of concern, but their numbers increased in the 1990s. Their migratory routes are tied very closely to the presence of wild celery. Their routes have changed as wild celery disappeared from certain parts of their range due to water pollution. 

Red-crested Pochard

Habitat/Range: The Red-crested Pochard is found across Eurasia. They breed from the Black Sea and Turkey east to northwestern China and western Mongolia as well as south to Afghanistan. They winter around the northeastern Mediterranean, the middle east, and India. They prefer large freshwater lakes with lots of fringe vegetation. Sometimes they are found in brackish coastal waters. 

Behavior: Red-crested Pochards feed mainly by dabbling but also dive to feed. Like most ducks, they feed mainly in the early morning and evenings. 

Breeding: Mates form pairs in autumn through winter, before heading to their breeding grounds. They breed from April until late June. Once the female is nearly done incubating the eggs, the males form molting flocks and leave the brood rearing to the female. Males group up to molt to help protect one another from predators in this vulnerable state where they are unable to fly. When molting is complete, they depart for their winter grounds and arrive in October or later. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. 

Mandarin Duck

Habitat/Range: Mandarin ducks are native to eastern Russia, China, and Japan. They prefer densely wooded areas near lakes, marshes or ponds. 

Behavior: Mandarin ducks feed by dabbling or walking on land. They mainly eat plants and seeds but will also eat insects, snails, and fish.  

Breeding: Mandarin ducks nest in tree cavities and lay clutches of 9 to 12 eggs which are laid in April or May. Males defend the females and eggs during for the beginning of incubation but leave before they hatch. Shortly after hatching, chicks leap from their nest to the ground and follow their mother to nearby water. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Their main threat is habitat loss via logging. 

Mallard

Habitat/Range: Mallards are both migratory and resident ducks found throughout North America. They are frequent residents of urban cities and parks and can become quite tame around people. 

Behavior: Mallards are very general foragers and consume a wide variety of animal and plant matter including insect larvae, earthworms, snails, freshwater shrimp, seeds, grains, and aquatic vegetation. They feed by dabbling and on the ground. You’ll often see park goers feeding bread and to these friendly ducks. Like other ducks, mallards have a 3-4 week period after breeding where they molt and are unable to fly. During this period, they are very vulnerable to predators and try to remain hidden. 

Breeding: Males and females typically pair up during the breeding season; however, paired males will mate with other females. This is called “extra-pair copulations”. They build their nests on the ground by digging a shallow bowl and lining it with twigs, grasses, and sedges. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. They are the most abundant duck in North America. 

Northern Pintail

Habitat/Range:  Northern Pintails are migratory ducks found throughout North America as well as Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. They migrate to the prairie pothole region as well as Canada and Alaska to breed once the ice melts.  

Behavior: Pintails dabble for aquatic plants, worms, snails, and crustaceans as well as forage for seeds and grains. They are able to erupt from the water and turn quickly in flight with their slender wings. They are social birds and are often seen in large flocks. 

Breeding: Females scrape nests into the ground and line it with sedges and grasses. Females incubate eggs for 22-24 days and lay 3-12 eggs per clutch. Chicks hatch fully covered in down and are able to leave their nests shortly after. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. However, their populations are in decline largely due to loss of wetland habitat. 

European White Eyed Duck (Ferruginous Duck)

Habitat/Range: European White-eyed Ducks (or Ferruginous Ducks) are found in eastern and southern Europe in freshwater lakes and marshes with extensive fringe and emergent vegetation. 

Behavior: They are found in pairs or small parties but do form large flocks of up to 300 ducks prior to migration at the end of post-breeding molting. They are most active in the morning and evening and spend the daytime loafing (resting) on banks or dozing in the water. They are shy, rather solitary and hard to spot. 

Breeding: Ferruginous Ducks form pairs in late winter and most are already paired before arriving at their breeding grounds. They breed from April to June and build nests among waterside vegetation. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Ferruginous Ducks are locally common; however, some smaller western populations have disappeared or declined due to wetland drainage. 

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