Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) is of medium size, between 56 – 71 centimeters in length, with the male and female being similar in plumage. The males are just slightly larger than the females. The Arctic Loon has gray coloring on its head and nape, and its back is black with white spots. The neck is striped in black and white with white flanks and it is often difficult to see, but there is either green or purple plumaged on the throat. Its bill is straight, almost dagger-like, and it has black eyes.

Being a coastal bird, the Arctic Loon can be found near the ocean or open lakes and will often be seen around tundra lakes in the summer. It feeds on aquatic foods such as crustaceans, fish and mollusks and is known to eat certain amphibians. They are often seen diving into the water, from the surface, to catch small fish. They will also fly to bigger waters, to find food. The Arctic Loons are migratory birds, and will migrate to the coastal areas around western Alaska for breeding. Arctic Loons are very awkward on land, and take to flight only from the water.

During the breeding season, Arctic Loons will construct their nests on the ground, and use soil and plants as building material. The female can lay up to three eggs, that vary between an olive green to brown color, and have black spots. Both parents assist in the incubation period of the eggs, which is approximately 28 to 30 days.

The Loon species has been divided into two categories, namely the Artic Loon and the Pacific Loon. Both are very similar in plumage, and were therefore considered to be the same specie for many years. The difference can be seen on their throats. Arctic Loons have a greenish plumage and the Arctic Loons that originate from Eurasia have a purple plumage, which is the similar purple color that can be seen on the Pacific Loons. It was also not unusual to see Pacific and Arctic Loons, working together off Japans’ coast, in order to secure food during the winter months. The fishermen used to call them heaven’s messengers, as they would locate the schools of fish, making life a lot easier for the fisherman. Due to the decline in the loon population, these amazing coastal birds no longer practice this survival skill. It is also believed that the change in fishing methods have also influenced this practice.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is amongst the well-known “stiff-tailed ducks”. A highly aquatic bird, the Ruddy duck spends extensive hours on the water and is adept at diving and sinking below the water surface. They are nocturnal, sleeping the day away. Ruddy ducks have even been seen being pushed along the surface of the water by wind, tucked up in little balls whilst sleeping.

Ruddy Ducks are stout little ducks with short wings and distinctive stiff tails. The face is marked by white cheek patches and a dark cap. Its bill is a blue color. Males differ from the females, having chestnut body plumage. The female is a darker brown and has a line running through her cheek patch. They measure about 35 to 43 cm with a wingspan of 56 to 62 cm. The Ruddy Duck’s tail sticks straight up whilst swimming and these remarkable birds have the ability to sink into the water without diving. These ducks are typically quiet, only making calls during courtship. During this time the male will create little popping noises.

As a New World bird, the Ruddy Duck’s range extends across North America into Mexico. They have however been introduced into the UK. Ruddy Ducks prefer open freshwater and wetlands, also making use of reservoirs. These interesting ducks will gather in flocks. They dine on tubers and seeds of aquatic vegetation as well as small fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic insect larvae. Whilst foraging, the Ruddy duck will dive under the water and filter mud through its bill.

Male Ruddy Ducks perform elaborate mating displays. He will swim with his tail in a fan past the female several times. He creates a drumming sound by slapping his bill on his chest, also causing bubbles to form under his chest. The nest is built in dense vegetation out of grass and cattails which is lined with down. The female Ruddy Duck then lays between 5 and 10 eggs, incubating them for 22 to 26 days. Soon after hatching the offspring are able to swim and feed, though the female keeps a close eye on them. The young Ruddy Ducks are able to fly between 42 and 49 days of age. Migration begins in September. They will travel during the night in massive flocks. They will migrate back again between February and May.

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Considered by many to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl, the colorful Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is somewhat unique in that it is one of the few North American ducks that nest in trees. Also known as the Carolina Duck, the Wood Duck can be found in eastern North America and the west coast of the US, as well as in western Mexico. They usually select wooded swamps, marshes, ponds or shallow lakes as a breeding habitat and will nest in tree cavities close to water. Despite their popularity, these birds are shy and skittish and they are quick to make an escape if disturbed or threatened.

The average Wood Duck is 47-54 cm in length with a wingspan of 66-73 cm. This makes them a medium-sized duck with long, broad wings. They also have a crest on their heads and a long tail. The male is most spectacular during breeding season. Between fall and summer he has a red bill, red eye and green head with striking white stripes around his face and chest. These stripes start as a white throat patch which then grow into ‘finger-like’ extensions which can be found at the base of the neck and the bottom of the cheek. His breast becomes a strong chestnut colour and there is a white vertical strip at the lower margin. His flanks are a golden colour which are bordered at the top with a white flank stripe. His belly is also white and his wings and back become a shiny dark green-blue. There is also an iridescent blue-green speculum on the rear of his wings with a white edge. When he is not breeding, the male looks quite similar to the female, except that he retains his distinctive white neck patch and red bill. The adult female is much less colourful and has a grey bill, a white teardrop patch around her eye and a white throat. Her head and neck are a grey-brown colour and her grey-brown breast is stippled with white which fades into a white belly. Her back and wings are a dark brown.

Generally speaking, the Wood Duck eats seeds, acorns, fruit and both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. They peck and dabble on the surface of the water and may dive under for food. When they nest, they may make use of nesting boxes if these are available. The nest is lined with down from the female and she lays between 6 and 15 eggs in a clutch. Soon after hatching, the down-covered ducklings jump out the nest and make their way to the water where they put their natural swimming talent to good use.