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Ducks in wintertime? 

REGION- Winter has officially become the season of the duck, thanks in part to Rosemary Mosco’s comic about weird winter ducks! Each winter, bird enthusiasts across Michigan rejoice as these cool, quirky fowl descend upon our open waters.

Many of these ducks, geese, and swans migrate from as far north as the Arctic tundra when northern waters freeze over. For these birds, Michigan is the perfect winter paradise.

If you live near a body of water that doesn’t completely freeze over the winter, you are likely familiar with the raucous calls and splashing sounds of congregating waterfowl. You might see dabbling ducks bobbing along the water’s surface, dipping forward headfirst in search of seeds and aquatic plants, or spot geese and swans honking in chorus as they splash-land. Diving ducks can be found disappearing and reappearing as they dive for mollusks and small fish under water.

We’ve highlighted a couple of our favorite fowl that you can see this winter, along with their special quirks (and quacks).

Gadwalls

Gadwall
Gadwall

From a distance, males and females of this dabbling duck (pictured above) appear brown and drab and can sometimes be overlooked. Identify the male by his black rump, small white wing patch and dark bill. Upon closer inspection, notice the intricately patterned feathers on the male’s head, chest and sides. Look for these underrated but gorgeous birds in southern Michigan marshes, lakes and river mouths.

Buffleheads

Three bufflehead ducks, with black, white, gray and purple coloring, swim atop deep-blue, rolling water

Our most diminutive diver, the bufflehead (pictured here), has very energetic feeding habits. Their name is from the male’s odd, puffy-shaped “buffalo head.” While females lack the iridescence of males, they have large, rounded heads and an oval, white cheek patch. Look for these adorable ducks in pairs or small groups on sheltered bays, lakes, estuaries (where river mouths meet lakes), ponds and slow-moving rivers.

Bufflehead
Bufflehead

To learn more about Michigan’s ducks, visit Audubon Great Lakes for the full story, or watch MI Birds’ Winter Waterfowl Identification webinar, offered in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, River Raisin Institute and Detroit Bird Alliance.

MI Birds is a public outreach and engagement program created by Audubon Great Lakes and the DNR, which aims to increase all Michiganders’ engagement in the understanding, care and stewardship of public lands that are important for birds and local communities.

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