A pintail hatches at Yukon Flats. His mother, though Alberta-born, has settled in Alaska this summer after two years of prairie drought. He grows quickly in the perpetual light of the northern summer. In early autumn, he migrates south through Alberta, lingering to refuel on managed wetlands near Brooks. The young drake winters in California's Sacramento Valley, with thousands of his kind, taking advantage of recently restored wetlands and a smorgasbord of flooded rice fields. In March he picks his way north. Finally accepted by a mate staging in the flooded grasslands of southern Oregon, he follows her to wet prairie in the Dirt Hills south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. With his hen tending a nest, he joins a flock of other molting drakes on Old Wives' Lake. Back on the wing, he flies south early to northern Utah, where he is last seen swooping around Bear River Refuge.
A lesser scaup hatches at Cardinal Lake, southeast of Inuvik in Canada's vast boreal forest. Avoiding marauding gulls just after hatch, he and his siblings grow fat on abundant amphipods. With little time to spare, he migrates just ahead of the ice down the Mackenzie Valley, through the mighty Peace-Athabasca Delta, and across the broad prairies. Narrowly avoiding a fatal parasite infection during a stop on the Upper Mississippi River, the bluebill continues downstream past Keokuk and the confluence of the Missouri. The bird finally settles for the winter on catfish ponds in the Mississippi Delta, 4,059 miles from where he hatched.
What these three ducks share, along with us, is a continent—a continent blessed with the greatest populations of waterfowl anywhere on the planet—and as Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans we share the heritage and responsibility of being their stewards. The international borders the birds crossed on their long journey passed unnoticed below their wings. Similarly, those of us who care about ducks must focus not on political boundaries of arbitrary construction but instead on working together as North Americans to ensure that the birds' habitat needs are met throughout their annual cycle.