Picture    Picture       Ducks        Picture    Picture



Ducks are found throughout the world from the Arctic regions to South America, Africa, and Australia. Some species, for example the pink-headed duck of India, are very rare. Some, such as the Labrador duck, have become extinct in recent years, whereas others occur in large numbers. Because of their long migrations south during the winter, some species range over large portions of the northern continents. About 40 species of ducks are found in North America.

       Ducks are well adapted for cold conditions. Their outer coat of closely packed feathers is made waterproof by oil from a gland near the tail, which is a trait characteristic of all waterfowl. Beneath the coat of feathers is a thick inner layer of soft, fluffy feathers called down. Ducks' webbed feet are able to withstand icy waters because blood is shunted away from them during extreme cold.

       The male, called the drake, has showy plumage during the breeding season while the female is more muted in appearance. A brightly colored wing patch, called the speculum, is present in both sexes of some species. A duck's legs are set far back on the body, providing an advantage in swimming. However, the positioning of the legs makes a duck extremely awkward when walking on land. In short flights some ducks have been recorded at speeds greater than 70 miles (112 kilometers) per hour.

       Most ducks nest on the ground, near water, in depressions lined with plants and with down from the birds' own breasts. The down, with its excellent insulating properties, is used to cover the eggs when the female is away from the nest. After the breeding season, ducks molt, or shed their feathers. At this time they cannot fly because they lose all of their wing quills at once. Most other birds lose only one quill at a time from each wing.

       Ducks are classified in various ways by scientists, but a common grouping is based on habits and food. Two major groups are the diving ducks and the surface-feeding, or dabbling, ducks. The dabbling ducks live in marshes, shallow ponds, and slow-moving streams. They dive very little. Instead, they feed by "tipping up" with the head down, feet and tail in the air, and probing the mud bottoms for shellfish and insect larvae. Some swim around in the water eating surface plants and aquatic insects.

       Mallards are the most common of the dabbling ducks. They are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The drake has a glossy green head and a white ring around the neck. The back is gray-brown, the breast rich chestnut, the underparts grayish-white. The speculum is purple. The female mallard is a mottled brown.

       The blue-winged, green-winged, and cinnamon teals, the smallest of the dabbling ducks, are highly prized as food by hunters. One of the most colorful ducks in the world is the male of the wood duck, a dabbler of the eastern United States. Wood ducks lay their eggs in tree cavities. A close relative is the mandarin duck of Asia. Other dabblers are the shovelers, widgeons, and black duck. Another duck popular among hunters is the pintail. It is widely distributed but very wary, and it ranges throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters as far south as Central America and the West Indies.

       Diving ducks live on the open waters of large lakes and seacoasts. They dive for their food of fishes, shellfish, and water plants. They feed by day and spend the night on the water far from shore. Some species migrate as far south as Central America during the winter months.

       The canvasback is a common diving duck sought by hunters. Its compact, grayish-colored back resembles coarse canvas. The head and neck are red-brown. The redhead is a closely related species. Other common diving ducks are the scaups, ring-necked duck, goldeneyes, and the old squaw.

       Eiders are beautifully patterned ducks native to northern Europe and North America. They are especially valued for their down. Commercial eiderdown is taken from the nest that the female lines during nesting. Eider ducks remain far north during winter, primarily in marine coastal areas. Scoters are also coastal diving ducks that winter along both the Atlantic and Pacific.

       Mergansers are fish-eating ducks that are placed in a separate subfamily from other divers. They differ from all other ducks in having a long, narrow, cylindrical bill with saw-tooth edges. The red-breasted merganser, a common species in coastal and large lake areas of the United States during winter, is also found in China and Africa. The beautiful hooded merganser winters throughout much of North America.

       Some types of ducks have been domesticated and are raised commercially as food and for their eggs and down. Domesticated ducks are hardy and comparatively resistant to parasites and diseases. They require simple housing and thrive even without water to swim in. New York is the largest producer of domesticated ducks in the United States. Most New York duck farms are on Long Island where millions of ducks are produced each year.


   Picture     Picture             Geese              Picture    Picture


 Geese have heavier bodies and longer necks than ducks. Unlike ducks, male and female geese are similar in appearance during all seasons. The male goose is called a gander. The juvenile is called a gosling. Geese are found throughout the world and include the pied goose of Australia, the rare Hawaiian goose, and the red-breasted goose of Siberia.

       The several varieties of Canada geese are the best-known wild geese in North America. These large birds average about 36 inches (92 centimeters) in length, are gray-brown above, and have a black head and neck. A prominent white patch runs under the chin and up both cheeks. They nest from the northern United States to the Arctic tundra and winter as far south as Mexico. Canada geese mate for life. The female lays four to ten eggs that the male helps incubate. Both parents furiously defend the young, hissing violently and attacking intruders with their strong bills and beating wings.

       Among the North American species is the snow goose, a white bird with black wing tips. The blue goose is a gray variety of snow goose with a white head. Both spend the winter in the southern United States, particularly in the Gulf Coast region. The brant is a small goose, closely related to the Canada goose, with a black head, neck, and breast. Brants nest in Arctic areas around the world and spend the winter in saltwater habitats of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The greylag is the best known of the European wild geese. These belong to a group known as the gray geese from which stem many domesticated stocks.

       Geese have been domesticated for centuries. In Europe and Asia, geese have been used successfully as guards because they honk when a trespasser approaches. Goose down is prized as stuffing for pillows and quilts. Quill pens made from goose feathers were used for centuries. Today, some farms specialize in raising geese for market.


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