Friday, January 9, 2009

Hybrid ducks

Right now is an amazing time to head out and go looking for winter waterfowl. New Jersey and the east coast offer a wide variety of different types of ducks, including but not limited to Hooded Mergansers, Ring-Necked Duck, Pintail, Green-Winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, etc. As if this array of web-footed friends wasn't enough, some ducks will also hybridize with other species, offering even more interesting individuals and sometimes very cryptic plumage.

Since the precocious little ducklings feed on their own, the paternal figures rarely stick around to help out. The young follow their mother around but don't need a great amount of care other than the occasional warning or protection from potential predators. Thanks to this family dynamic, male ducks can wander as they please and are often quite promiscuous. Often they will mate with multiple females during a single breeding season, and if they come across a female from a sister species...well, that's fair game too. It isn't entirely common but if you look closely chances are you'll eventually spot a few hybrids. Sometimes it isn't so easy to identify them. It could be a difference in bill or speculum coloration. Other times, however, it quickly becomes apparent that you have a hybrid on your hands. This was the case with the individual pictured below, a mallard x black duck hybrid seen while birding the Meadowlands last week. In this instance one can assume that a male mallard has mated with a female black duck, causing some green coloration in the head feathers.

Photo taken by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

There are plenty of great places to observe ducks right now. DeKorte Park was filled with Pintail and Northern Shoveler last week. The Great Swamp can be a great place to observe Hooded Mergansers and Green-Winged Teal. Visit Sandy Hook for the chance to see Barrow's Goldeneye along with Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Red-Breasted Merganser, and many other species. Don't forget about Cape May, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and other Atlantic coast hotspots!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right now is an amazing time to head out and go looking for winter waterfowl.
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