There’s More to Waterfowl than Meets the Eye
How many times have you argued with your friends in the blind about which duck species is the fastest or pondered just how quickly those specklebellies migrated down from Canada?
The trait of intercontinental migration alone makes waterfowl unique among the species we hunt. When you factor in the biological diversity among the species, things get interesting, as you will read in the following list of waterfowl facts.
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An article in Southeastern Naturalist reported on a study by Ruth M. Elsey, Phillip L. Trosclair III and Jeb T. Linscombe on the predation of mottled ducks on alligators.
“Although the alligator has been noted to prey upon mottled ducks, evidence of mottled duck consumption is rare in numerous studies of alligator food habits. This may be due to the season and habitat from which alligators were collected for evaluation (often autumn samples from deep water habitats preferred by adult alligators). We examined stomach contents of alligators in summer (when mottled duck broods and molting adults are flightless) from shallow water habitats preferred by mottled ducks. mottled duck remains were found in 20.9 percent of 43 alligator stomachs examined, far more than the highest frequency occurrence previously reported (1.27 percent). Unexpectedly, three relatively small alligators (1.51–1.70 m total length) consumed mottled ducks and the sixteen largest alligators did not. This study underscores the importance of season and location of collections when evaluating stomach content data.”
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The big white ducks that are commonly kept as pets and that are a fixture in city parks are Peking ducks which were brought over from China in the 1870s for meat production. Muscovies, which hail from South America, are also popular meat ducks, and they sometimes hybridize with mallards and mottled ducks when they go wild.
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According to Cornell University researchers, snow goose hunting in the eastern United States was stopped in 1916 because of low population levels. “Hunting was allowed again in 1975 after populations had increased. Populations have been growing so large that the geese are destroying nesting habitat,” they reported.
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Ducks Unlimited charted band return data from 1990 to 2000 for all duck species banded north of Texas during the breeding season, and then identified the top five duck production areas for the state.
Of the 5,403 duck bands reported in Texas, DU officials said 37 percent were banded in Saskatchewan, 19 percent in Alberta, 6 percent in Manitoba, 5 percent in North Dakota, and 5 percent in Montana. Mallards represented the majority (41 percent) of banded birds taken in Texas. Blue-winged teal (16 percent), wood ducks (12 percent), and pintails (10 percent) were the next closest species.
DU officials noted it quickly becomes apparent how important mallards, blue-winged teal and wood ducks are to Texas duck hunters when more than 69 percent of band recoveries come from these three species.
Which counties produced the most banded ducks?
According to DU officials, just about every county in Texas produced at least one band recovery. However, the counties located along the Texas coast reported the most band recoveries. The top five counties were 1,. Jefferson; 2, Fort Bend; 3, Wharton; 4, Calhoun; and 5, Chambers.
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A popular urban legend concerning ducks is, “a duck’s quack doesn’t echo.” This is not true, and a team from the University of Salford in England proved it with a research project.
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The lifespan of a mallard is typically two to three years although wild specimens have been found living longer than 10 years and one domestic mallard hung around until it was 27.
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According to the popular facts and figures website, planet101.com, the fastest waterfowl species in flight is the Asian spur-winged goose, which has been clocked at 88 miles per hour. The red-breasted merganser is a close second with 80 mile per hour flight.
The canvasback despite being one of the largest ducks can hit an amazing 72 miles per hour. Eiders are good for up to 70 miles an hour while teal can hit 68. Mallards and pintails are tied with 65 mile per hour speeds.
I was able to independently verify the speeds for most of these species and found that when these birds are flying high, tail winds can push them to even more amazing speeds. The red-breasted merganser for example was clocked by researches flying 100 miles per hour with the help of tail winds.
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Humans almost caused the extinction of wood ducks in the early 1900s through habitat destruction and over harvesting for food and feathers according to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. But concerned citizens got together to save wood ducks. They created hunting seasons and bag limits and built and maintained thousands of nest boxes for them.
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Here are some TPWD facts on the species:
Sexual maturity: One year
Mating season: February to May
Gestation: Eggs hatch in 28 to 37 days. The young leave the nest one to two days after that.
Number of young: 6 to 15 usually 10 to 15. Eggs are two inches long and creamy white.
Older male wood ducks pair up earlier in the season than yearling males. Female wood ducks usually return to nest within two miles of where they were born.
Baby wood ducks are precocial, which means that they are covered with down, can swim and find their own food soon after they are born. They can climb as high as eight feet to get out of the nest cavity that they were born in using a special tooth on their beak. They have been known to safely jump 50 feet to the ground when they leave their nest,
Wood ducks prefer nesting over water so that the babies have a soft landing when they leave the nest.
—story byChester Moore