So you think you have to go to a park or find a designated bird watching area to see something you’ve never seen before? Recently, I shared a life list bird that showed up in my own yard. No big bird outing needed for that one!
How about going to the gas station? Yesterday, I went to get gas, but found my preferred station to be quite busy. So I pulled out and, figuring I’d wait a few minutes for things to clear out, turned into the big parking lot for a home improvement store with a little strip mall, along a busy road, next door to the gas station. Fronting the road is a family restaurant, and next to the dining spot is a little pond.
As I pulled into the lot, I spotted a duck all by itself on the pond, so parked and pulled out the ever-present camera and snapped a few shots. I got gas finally, then went home and looked at the photos, trying to figure out the duck. (I freely admit that I am terrible at waterfowl ID!) I finally settled on Wood Duck, eclipse male or “juvie-working-on-adulthood” male, but checked in with my trusty ID gurus (I may be terrible at ID, but I know who to call) , who sided with eclipse male. (I don’t like to post photos unless I’m almost certain of the bird’s identification.)
NOTE: What does the term “eclipse male” mean? Many male ducks have brilliant colors during the breeding season, while the females tend to be much duller in color. After breeding season is over, when the males molt (cast off one set of feathers and grow new ones), their non-breeding colors are much duller (and more like the females of the species). This is referred to as their eclipse plumage. In the following spring, they will molt again and regain their bright colors!
How did I decide on what type of duck it might be? I looked at my photos, noticing a few characteristics: head shape, color and shape of the bill, eye color, and plumage (feather) color. One thing I noticed in this duck was a white pattern on its face. Do you see the little comma shape on its check? As I looked through my bird identification books, these were some of the characteristics that led me to think about it as a Wood Duck.
Anyway, long story short…this bird was a delight for me, and it happened when I wasn’t even purposefully out looking! (This Wood Duck doesn’t count as a life list bird for me, as I’ve seen two before, last fall in Ithaca, New York.)
Here is a link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird identification site to help you learn more about Wood Ducks. When you see the male in its full breeding plumage, you can see how brilliant his color is…and why I had to look hard to find out that this was indeed a Wood Duck.
Look up, look down, look all around…and you’ll be amazed at the nature that abounds!
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