Volume 12, Issue 49 ~ December 2 - December 8, 2004
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Earth Journal
by Gary Pendleton

Puddle Ducks and Bay Ducks

These ducks could be mallards, black ducks, gadwall or blue-winged teal. Based on their posture, they appear to be taking off by flying straight up. That would make them some kind of dabbling duck, a group that also includes pintails and green-winged teal.

They are called dabblers because their feeding style is to tip their tails up while they nibble on submerged vegetation. Dabblers — or puddle ducks — typically inhabit shallow freshwater marshes and rivers.

At this time of year, the Chesapeake region is visited by a number of duck species that inhabit the open waters of the Bay. These are the Bay duck or diving ducks such as canvasback and scaup (lesser and greater), bufflehead and mergansers. Their feeding style is to propel themselves underwater in search of fish and shellfish, using their webbed feet like flippers. Canvasbacks, however, are known to consume plants when available, which seems to account for their reputation for good eating.

Because Bay ducks’ wings are proportionately smaller than those of dabbling ducks, the divers are unable to take to the air directly. To become airborne, they run across the surface of the water while they flap their wings.

Waterfowl have a significant place in the Tidewater region’s natural and cultural histories. Their numbers are not what they once were, but their presence continues to add an element of grace and beauty to the scene.

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