Bird Watching: The Mighty Ducks


There are not many areas of hunting or even angling that are as creative as the duck world. The cool names alone make them one of the most interesting species on the planet. Which means it comes as no surprise that scores of binoculars, fun calls, and the friendly retriever are all part of this incredible hunting experience.

Now, when we say “species,” we’re not kidding. There are tons, to say the least; from the dabblers like the Cinnamon Teal to the divers like the respected

1987 California Duck Stamp

1987 California Duck Stamp

Elders. Frankly, when speaking about ducks, their names can signify anything from a Hollywood movie starlet to a creature in ‘Oz.’ Therefore…today the ducks rule and it’s time to be introduced to some of the craziest out there just waiting for you to arrive. (Well…if you have a pair of binoculars they’re waiting; if you’re carrying other gear, probably not.)

Let’s begin with a very patriotic choice. The American Black Duck may be a mirror image of the mallard when it comes to size, but as the name state’s this one has plumage that runs to the ‘dark side.’ The slight dash of color comes with the bill; the male’s are yellow and their mates are a dull/faded green. Unlike the name, however, we are not talking about black; their bodies are actually dark brown with a lighter brown making up the head. Add in the almost glittering violet of the speculum with black margins, and you almost have their image. But the flash of white under the wings you receive when it takes off proves that this duck is far more colorful than it’s name let’s on. Where to see these guys? Head to the Atlantic or mid-Atlantic coasts to get a gander, and when it gets a tad bit too chilly, visit anywhere from Long Island to North Carolina or the river valleys in places like Tennessee or Illinois.

The only downside for these guys is the fact that their populations are declining rapidly, but it’s not the hunter’s fault. It is the mallard families expanding into their territory and deciding to ‘set up house’ with the black duck which has caused hybridization.

Now we head to the kin of ‘Zorro,’ himself: The Masked Duck. Ready to fight for the poor and hungry… (Oh, wait…no, that’s not it.) The Masked Duck is actually a great deal like the Ruddy Duck, but smaller and have a very bright and easy to spot white speculum when they fly. Yet they do have the elegance of the big ‘Z,’ considering that when they do decide to take flight it looks as easy and graceful as an eagle. The coolest issue that sets them apart, however, is that mask. The males have an oddly shaped black mask that covers the crown and cheeks, extending into a bill that is a gleaming bright blue. A white spot appears on the chin (like Zorro could get old?), but the mask sets off the rest of the head and body which remains the red color of a chestnut. The long tail is made up of stiff black feathers, as if the rest of Zorro’s costume was given, and the male likes to shout, “Kiri-Kuroo,” as if announcing the fact that they are there! What does the female do? She hisses and clucks. Much like most females do when their mate is just a tad too ‘egotistical’ when he pretends he’s Zorro. Of course, they breed in Texas…and everything is grander in Texas!

And seeing as we‘ve gone South, it’s time to speak about the North. The Northern Shoveler is a breed that reminds one of the hard-working type, leaving his mask behind, so to speak. But what the males lack in style they make up for in uniqueness, with their amazingly dramatic bill that’s spoon-shaped (hence, the ‘shoveler.’) The green coloring is practically iridescent on their head and neck, while the chest is white and the rest is colored in the familiar chestnut. And just to add a little ‘snap’ to the wardrobe, the grand bill is covered with plumage during breeding time, which mostly occurs in north-central U.S. and Canadian prairies; and the legs and feet are a bright orange that can’t be missed. Does he speak? A lot like the ‘Pink Panther’ theme, the Northern Shoveler will offer his: “ga-dunk, ga-dunk, ga-dunk,” while flying above or sitting out in his watery home.

On to the divers! One of the most interesting to set eyes upon is Barrow’s Goldeneye, which actually differs from the common goldeneye species. With an oversized, oval-shaped head and a stubby triangular bill, the male is crowned with a purplish head that’s a complete and utter sheen, with only a crescent-shaped bright white patch located between the eye and bill. Much like the famous pirate’s, the Barrow’s Goldeneye has a black band between the white speculum and the white patch that makes yellow eyes pop.

Breeding mostly in southeastern Alaska, as well as areas in Washington, Oregon, and the Rocky Mountains, Barrow’s Goldeneye makes the nest in wooded areas, or close to a lake that is surrounded by overgrown or dense vegetation, and usually return to the same place year after year, choosing to also winter in what you would call already quite cold areas.

And for anyone who prefers redheads – there is one just for you! The Redhead is, just as it’s name suggests, a duck with reddish head and a black breast. Tails are brownish-black with a wide band of light gray extending across the wing. The actual call of the male Redhead is the familiar call of, “meow.” (Something the greatest redhead starlets of all time were known to utter.)

Heading to the northern areas of the U.S. and Canada to breed, Redheads mostly shy away from the wooded or forested areas, preferring to stay out in the open in vast prairies with lakes or ponds to keep their red hair shiny. When it comes to the diving facet of the duck world, it is the Redhead that is the most common in America, and tend to winter in areas of Idaho or head straight down to the Gulf Coast to enjoy Texas, as well as Mexico. And as far as issues with this particular creature heading to the endangered list anytime soon, that won’t be a problem. At last check there were still almost a half a million of them left…just more proof that Redheads are taking over the world!

Whatever you choose – whether it be a Zorro wannabe, a pirate, or a feisty redhead – you’ll have a whole lot of fun in the world of the ‘Mighty Duck!’

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