While most dabbling ducks are denizens of the shallows, American Wigeon spend much of their time in flocks grazing on land. Paradoxically, they also spend more time than other marsh ducks on deep water, where they get much of their food by stealing it from other birds such as coots or diving ducks. This duck was once known as “Baldpate” because of its white crown.
Redheads fly faster than most ducks, with a rapid, shallow wingbeat and a flight pattern that’s more erratic than that of the similar-looking Canvasback. You’ll often see these sociable ducks feeding with Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, and American Coots. Sometimes the birds feed together on vegetation that a mixed flock brings to the surface. Redheads pair up on the wintering grounds and the pair bond strengthens during spring migration. During this time, unmated males often form “courting parties” with mated pairs. They seek the female’s attention by drawing their head and neck back and erecting the crown and neck feathers in a “kink necked” display, giving a meow call.
Many of the dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the big spatulate bill of the Northern Shoveler is adapted to take this habit to the extreme. Flocks of shovelers often swim along with their big bills barely submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters. Despite their heavy-set build, shovelers are good fliers; at large gatherings, groups often are seen taking off, circling the area repeatedly, then alighting again.
A slim, crested, fish-eating duck, commonly seen around jetties and piers along the coast. Superficially this species is quite similar to the Common Merganser. However, the Red-breasted Merganser nests farther north, winters mostly on salt water, and nests mainly on the ground, while the Common winters mostly on fresh water and nests in cavities.
The bluebird is well named, for he wears a coat of the purest, richest, and most gorgeous blue on back, wings, and tail; no North American bird better deserves the name, for no other flashes before our admiring eyes so much brilliant blue.” — Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds.
The flashy American Oystercatcher was once known as the “sea pie,” but it was renamed in 1731 when naturalist Mark Catesby observed the bird eating oysters. This is one of the few bird species that specializes in feeding on saltwater mollusks.
The shorebirds’ nests are shallow scrapes on sandy or rocky ground along the shore. Although oystercatcher eggs are well camouflaged, they are vulnerable to predation by raccoons, coyotes, skunks, gulls, crows, rats, and foxes.
Chicks can run within 24 hours of hatching; however, it takes up to 60 days for their beaks to become strong enough to pry open bivalves, so they rely on their parents to feed them for their first few weeks.
Oystercatchers are typically short-distance migrants. Breeding birds from South Carolina to Florida generally do not migrate, but will leave breeding territories to join local roosting flocks during the non-breeding season.
American Oystercatchers were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their plumage and eggs, but populations recovered well after passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918.
Adaptable and successful, this bird is common in the marshes of North and South America. It was formerly considered to belong to the same species as the Common Moorhen, widespread in the Old World. The gallinule swims buoyantly, bobbing its head; it also walks and runs on open ground near water, and clambers about through reeds and cattails above the water. Related to the American Coot and often found with it, but not so bold, spending more time hiding in the marsh.