Waterfowl are among the most diverse and interesting creatures on the planet. Inhabiting every continent except Antarctica, ducks, geese, and swans can be found just about everywhere there's water, from the High Arctic to the tropics and from the ocean to the desert. To survive in these varied environments, waterfowl have incredible abilities and do amazing things.
Have you ever wondered which duck flies fastest, migrates farthest, or dives deepest? Do you know the largest number of waterfowl ever seen in one place, or why the Labrador duck became extinct? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and much more about the waterfowl of North America and beyond.
All of this continent's waterfowl can dive, but some species are much better at it than others. The best diver of all waterfowl is the long-tailed duck (formerly known as the oldsquaw). More than 80 of the birds were reportedly caught in fishing nets off Wolfe Island, Lake Ontario, at a depth of 240 feet. The champion diver in the bird world is the emperor penguin, which has been recorded at the incredible depth of 1,770 feet.
Female wood ducks must ingest 75 grams (2.6 ounces) of invertebrates to obtain enough protein and minerals to produce one egg. To acquire these nutrients, the birds must consume more than 300 invertebrates an hour for eight hours.
Female green-winged teal can weigh as little as six ounces, making them the smallest of North America's waterfowl. The smallest of the geese is Branta hutchinsii minima , the bird formerly known as the cackling Canada goose and now apparently stuck with the unfortunate moniker of cackling cackling goose. By either name, it can weigh as little as three pounds.
The largest of North America's waterfowl is the trumpeter swan, which can tip the scales at more than 35 pounds. Weighing as much as six pounds, the common eider is the largest duck in the northern hemisphere.
Most waterfowl fly at speeds of 40 to 60 mph, with many species averaging roughly 50 mph. With a 50 mph tail wind, migrating mallards are capable of traveling 800 miles during an eight-hour flight. Studies of duck energetics have shown that a mallard would have to feed and rest for three to seven days to replenish the energy expended during this eight-hour journey.
While migrating from Alaska, a hen pintail carrying a satellite transmitter landed on a shrimp boat off the northern Oregon coast. The surprised crew carried the duck safely to shore and released it on a nearby wetland.
Wood ducks are the only North American waterfowl known to regularly raise two broods in one year. Mild temperatures enable wood ducks in the South to begin nesting as early as late January, and studies of southern wood ducks have found that more than 11 percent of females may produce two broods in a single season.
Both common and Barrow's goldeneyes are often called whistlers. On cold, windless days, the resonant whistling sound produced by goldeneyes' rapidly beating wings can be heard a half-mile away.