Duck blog part 2

Shoveler by Mike Andrews

During the winter months at Lackford Lakes nature reserve, visitors will see thousands of ducks on the lakes. They arrive during the autumn from northern Europe to spend the winter. At this time of year ducks look their smartest so it is a great time to see them on the reserve.

In this blog we are going to look closer at surface-feeding ducks.  These ducks feed from the surface using techniques of dabbling, head-dipping and upending.

Gadwall

A shy but very pretty duck that prefers the quieter life! It can often be seen at Lackford working its way around the muddy, reedy edges of the lakes, ponds and ditches. Usually found in pairs, year-round, the drake is very finely barred and speckled with black on grey. His partner, although looking a lot like a small female mallard, is more delicately built with a finer bill. The drakes do quack- but it’s as if they are holding their nose when they do it! The female also makes a short call, like a contented whistle, in response.

Gadwall

Gadwall by Steve Keeble

Mallard

The duck behind the familiar ‘quack-quack’ of storybooks and cartoons. The drake (male) has a beautiful bottle-green head and the duck (female) is a cryptic medley of brown- similar to the females of all the duck species mentioned here, to hide her well from predators when she has eggs or ducklings to care for. Mallards are ‘dabblers’- they feed by upending in water so they can reach just a little further below the surface to find plant food (they are vegetarians!).

Did you know… the mallard is the ancestor of all modern breeds of duck and was domesticated at least 4000 years ago in South East Asia.

Mallard

Mallard by Mike Andrews

Shoveler

Each bird is a filtering machine with a hefty bill to match! Dozens of vertical filaments in each side of the bill act like a colander- filtering out little bits of plant and animal matter from the water as the bird swishes its head from side to side. Shoveler are very sociable and are usually found feeding at least in a pair, where they 'spin' around- each bird stirring up sediment with its feet for the bird following behind to sift through. At Lackford, the edges of the Sailing Lake are more reliable spots to watch this fascinating feeding technique. They are a beautiful blocky mix of rust-orange, green, white and black, a bit like an abstract painting! In terms of sound, they make very little noise and tend to be shy too. 

Did you know... Shoveler tend to pair up during winter, and will stay together until the following autumn.

Shoveler

Shoveler by Mike Andrews

Teal

Easily the smallest of British ducks, and about the same size as a coot, but with a big voice! The constant whistling and trilling on the Slough especially at this time of year is the noise coming from hundreds of teal! The eye of the drake sits in a teardrop-shaped green patch on a chestnut head, and females have a small panel of rich 'teal blue' near the tail- this is how they get their name. They can upend to feed, but often just pick little bits of food from the water surface. In flight they're very fast, and can twist and turn suddenly as well as rise vertically from the water if spooked.

Did you know... teal do most of their feeding at night! You might hear their whistling calls through the night, as they keep in touch with the birds around them under the moonlight. 

Teal

Teal by Mike Johnson

Wigeon

If you walk around Lackford and hear a high-pitched 'wheeee!!' or 'whoooo!!' sound, like kids having fun in a playground, you have probably heard a wigeon. These lovely ducks are into grazing- as well as finding food in the water, they will often come out onto grassland or marshland and march across slowly in groups, cropping the vegetation as they go, like a herd of cows. The drake has a delicate pink breast and a toffee-coloured smudge up its forehead. They're fairly small, and can often be found mixed up with several other species on the Lakes.

Did you know... a local name for wigeon is 'whistler' and both names are thought to be based on their call.

Wigeon

Wigeon by Mike Johnson

Throughout February, visitors can find out all about the ducks that winter at Lackford Lakes by following our winter duck trail around the reserve.  Children can also try our special winter duck spotter sheet.