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Brooklyn Bird Watch: July 20

Gadwall. Scientific name: Mareca strepera

July 20, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Today Brooklyn Bird Watch is featuring a Heather Wolf photo of the Gadwall. The Columbus Audubon Society says “the Gadwall is similar in size to a Mallard, but with a steeper forehead and thinner bill. The drake Gadwall appears to be gray-brown at a distance, with a white belly and black patch at the tail. Upon closer inspection, the male’s body feathers are exquisitely patterned in a fine herringbone, as if it wore a tweed jacket.”

Females are mottled shades of brown with a dark orange-black bill. They look similar to female Mallards.

The Cornell Lab describes the “dabbling” Gadwall this way. “In a world where male ducks sport gleaming patches of green, red, or blue, the Gadwall’s understated elegance can make this common duck easy to overlook. Males are intricately patterned with gray, brown, and black; females resemble female Mallards, although with a thinner, darker bill. You’ll often see these ducks in pairs through the winter, because they select their mates for the breeding season as early as late fall.”

Perhaps all that “understated elegance”, appearing to be perfectly captured in Ms. Wolf’s photo, is a disguise, a front. The Gadwall is also known to be a “pirate.” As it elegantly “dabbles” in the pond it is simultaneously waiting to steal food from other diving ducks, such as the Coot, as they resurface. By the way, a “dabbling” duck is a duck that swims on the water surface, tipping forward to feed on submerged vegetation without diving.

At the Bird Watching HQ website they have a section devoted to ducks one might see in New York. There are 9 dabbling ducks listed. The Gadwalls are #3. Because of the understated elegance mentioned above, BWHQ notes: “Gadwalls are easy ducks to overlook in New York! Unlike most other species, males don’t sport any patches of blue, green, or white plumage. Look for them in small ponds that have lots of vegetation.”

As Cornell “Cool Facts” points out; “The Gadwalls have increased in numbers since the 1980s, partly because of conservation of wetlands and adjacent uplands in their breeding habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Their habit of nesting on islands within marshes gives them some protection from predators.”

Gadwalls are also #5 on the list of the most hunted ducks so, regretfully for them they taste pretty good, so they don’t always go “overlooked”. According to the Cornell Lab’s Cool Facts, the oldest known Gadwall was a male that was almost 20 years old, banded in Saskatchewan in 1962, and shot in Louisiana during hunting season in 1982. 

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