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Amazing Waterfowl Facts

Incredible information from the world of waterfowl
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LATE MOLT

Did you know that hen mallards molt during late fall or winter? The birds replace their "basic" plumage acquired during the summer molt with darker brown "alternate" plumage. These darker, more clearly defined feathers help camouflage the birds while nesting in the spring.

THREE'S COMPANY

African magpie geese form trios consisting of a male and two females that lay eggs in a single nest, and all three birds share incubation responsibilities.

DENSE NESTING

Some of the highest densities of nesting ducks on the continent occur in Colorado's San Luis Valley, where some managed habitats support as many as 1,000 breeding ducks per square mile. That's more than one duck nest per acre.

SPEED RECORD

The fastest duck ever recorded was a red-breasted merganser that attained a top airspeed of 100 mph while being pursued by an airplane. This eclipsed the previous speed record held by a canvasback clocked at 72 mph. Blue-winged and green-winged teal, thought by many hunters to be the fastest ducks, are actually among the slowest, having a typical flight speed of only 30 mph.

BIG STEP

To escape from predators, barnacle geese nest on cliffs up to 150 feet high along the Greenland coast. When the goslings hatch, they jump off the cliff and freefall to the ground or sea far below. The goslings are unharmed because their light, downy body effectively absorbs the impact. The same is true of wood duck and Canada goose broods that leap from nests high in trees. In some areas, nesting Canada geese regularly occupy abandoned raven and raptor nests in trees, giving the birds greater protection from land-based predators.

UNKNOWN CAUSES

The Labrador duck is the only known extinct North American waterfowl species. The last known wild Labrador duck was taken by a hunter in the fall of 1875, reportedly off Long Island, New York. Hunting, however, is not believed to have caused the species' decline. Waterfowl biologists suspect a variety of other factors and speculate that the introduction of new predators on the Labrador duck's breeding grounds or changes in their food supply possibly led to their extinction.

MASS MIGRATION

Severe weather will occasionally trigger a mass migration of waterfowl known as a grand passage. In early November 1995, following a severe blizzard in the Prairie Pothole Region, millions of migrating ducks and geese jammed radar systems and grounded flights in Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Missouri.

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Related:  waterfowl biology

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