Foam lake Birding No. 120


No. 120

The recent deluges along with warm temperatures have produced luxuriant vegetation, including weeds, over the whole province. Presently, the fruit trees are loaded with blossoms with the expectation of good yields of fruit later on that will come in handy for both people and wildlife. For example, the Cedar Waxwings are already utilizing the bounty by gorging themselves on flower blossoms especially apple petals. Later in the year they, along with other birds like Robins, will be eating the fruit.
The rains have also had an effect on the rural landscape overall. Creeks and rivers are at capacity and in some cases overflowing; the water tables are high; sloughs and lakes are much larger in area and quite a bit deeper. All this has affected the wildlife that lives on, in or near water.
Specifically, diving ducks like Canvasbacks and Scaups need larger and deeper bodies of water than dabblers like Teals and Mallards. One diver, the Redheaded Duck, needs even larger and deeper water than either the Canvasback or Scaup. The Redhead is often confused with the Canvasback because the colour of the males' heads is the same brick red and the body colours are somewhat similar. Once one gets past focussing on the head colour the differences between the two species are quite obvious. First, the Redhead has a "duck shaped" head that curves sharply downward from the forehead to the tip of the bill; the Canvasback has a "goose shaped" head that slopes gently downward in a straight line from the forehead to the tip of the bill. Second, the Canvasback has a longer gooselike neck giving it a more slender and graceful appearance. Third, the canvasback has a nearly white body while the Redhead has a dark grey one. It is best to check out the field marks of these ducks in a bird book before going out to see them in the wild. See article No. 51 for a more thorough discussion of these two species. If a red headed duck is white with a goose-like head and neck it is a Canvasback; if it is grey with a duck-like head and neck it is a Redhead.
The Redhead has another rather unusual characteristic in that it is quite parasitic and the hen will often lay her eggs in the nests of other ducks and let them do the work of raising the young. It is not unusual to see a hen Scaup with both Scaup and Redhead ducklings tagging along behind her. However, Redheads are not completely parasitic like Cowbirds and do build nests and raise the young themselves. Talk about laissez faire ducks.
For the winter Redheads often migrate to southern coastal areas to feed and rest in saltwater marshes and lagoons. This week's picture was taken at a nature preserve in South Padre Island just off the coast of Texas where many of our summer residents can be seen in the winter months.