Divers & Dabblers
Late March and April are prime time to observe waterfowl that are returning to the Northeast to breed, as well as passing through on their way to more northern breeding grounds. Birders divide ducks into tribes, and two of these tribes are the divers/pochards (Aythyini) and dabblers/puddlers (Anatini). You can tell them apart by the way they eat, look, fly and where they are found.
MANNER OF EATING: These two groups’ names pertain to the manner in which they obtain food. Divers dive down beneath the water to obtain their food. Dabblers eat food that is at or just below the surface – you often see their tails up in the air while their heads are submerged as they search for plant material and invertebrates, such as the pictured Gadwall.
POSITION ON WATER: When you look at a duck on the water, notice how it is positioned. Diving ducks, with dense and more compact bodies, often sit lower in the water. By squeezing their feathers against their body to expel trapped air, they can quickly dive and chase prey such as fish and crustaceans. Dabblers often float higher in the water, making their tails more visible than diving ducks.
POSITION OF LEGS: The legs of diving ducks are located at the hind end of their body, where they act as effective propellers in water (but don’t lend themselves to traveling on land). Dabbling ducks tend to have their legs located more centrally on their body, which enhances their ability to walk and feed on land.
LANDING AND TAKING OFF: Whereas diving ducks often need large expanses of water to land on as well as to take off from due to small wings relative to their body size, dabbling ducks’ proportionately large wings allow them to land and quickly take off from smaller bodies of water.
HABITAT: Diving ducks are often located in deep water; dabblers in shallow water, often no more than a foot deep.
Diving Ducks: Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck
Dabbling Ducks: Mallard, Mottled Duck, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Wood Duck
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American Bur-reed Flowering
American Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum, is an aquatic, perennial plant that grows two to four feet high and looks a lot like a grass due to its narrow leaves (but isn’t). This member of the Cattail family grows in shallow water (up to a foot deep) in marshes and along muddy shorelines. The flower stem forms a zig-zag pattern with flower clusters at each stem juncture. The large, spherical female flowers are located on the lower part of the stem, with the smaller male flowers at the top.
Considered an important plant for conservation purposes, American Bur-reed has the ability to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wetlands. It can help prevent eutrophication by lessening the buildup of nitrogen (often from agricultural land) and phosphorus (households, industry) from runoff.
American Bur-reed spreads rapidly through its underground root systems of rhizomes, and is relied upon by many birds as an important source of food. Waterfowl, including Mallards, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teal, consume the seeds, as do Soras, Virginia Rails and Wilson’s Snipe. Muskrats eat the entire plant. (Thanks to Kay Shumway for photo op.)
Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.
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