Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Ben Bailey

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the gadwall.
The gadwall (mareca strepera) is a medium-sized dabbling duck known to forage during the summer months in open, inland waters of lakes, marshes and ponds of western intermountain valleys and prairie regions west of the Mississippi River. During migration and winter, they may be found in coastal marshes and estuaries.
Dabbling gadwalls feed on plant material, mainly aquatic plants, by submerging their heads, diving and “up-ending” in the process. They also feed on insects and crustaceans. Unlike many in the duck/geese family, gadwalls are plain, simply marked and lack bright colorations. Females are mottled brown/gray with a yellowish bill with dark spots. Males are similar until viewed closer. While in flight, subtle colorations of chestnut and black on wing coverts are noticed. The male has a white belly, black rump and a slate gray bill. Both have yellow legs and feet.
Gadwalls breed near wetlands, grasslands, and mixed prairie. Females nest in fields and meadows. Together, the male and female seek the right nest site, but the female builds the nest. She lays seven to 12 white eggs and will often place them in other females’ nests.
One can view an unusual male behavior during courtship, when the male pulls his head back on his shoulders and raises his rear body part out of the water. He then lifts his wingtips to show off white patches in his wings. This breed migrates in flocks, but not a long distance migration, with most wintering north of the tropics. They are seen in Pagosa Springs year-round.
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