Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell
Male ducks often display glossy green, red, or blue colors, so with its gray-brown body and black patch on its tail, the Gadwall is easy to overlook. Females are dappled brown and buff, with thin, orange edges on their darker bills, and both sexes display white wing patches in flight and occasionally while swimming or at rest.
Approximately the size of mallards, Gadwalls have relatively square heads with sharp foreheads, bills that are more delicate than the mallard's, and in flight their necks are noticeably smaller and wings slimmer. They average 20 inches in length, weigh between one to two and three-quarter pounds, and have 33-inch wingspans.
These dabbling ducks feed on aquatic vegetation such as algae, grasses, rushes, sedges, pondweed, widgeon grass and water milfoil, including leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. They also consume snails, midges, water beetles and other invertebrates, especially during the breeding season. Gadwall also routinely steal food from surfacing diving ducks and coots!
Mating begins in late fall, and breeding is primarily in the Great Plains and prairies. During winter they reside on reservoirs, ponds, water wetlands, parks, sewage ponds or muddy inlets where there is aquatic vegetation.
They nest on islands within marshes, providing some protection from predators like foxes, weasels, mink, coyotes and badgers, but winged predators are still a threat. The female scrapes out a cup-shaped depression about a foot across and three inches deep, then uses her body as a mold as she adds twigs and leaves, finally insulating the nest with her own down feathers.
There is one brood per season consisting of seven to twelve eggs, which are laid one per day, and about one and a half inches by two inches in size. They incubate in 24 to 27 days. The chicks are able to leave the nest in one or two days.
Gadwall are not considered threatened, although they are the number three most-hunted duck in America.
March is a good time to visit our local lakes and add this unique duck to your personal birding list!
The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon. org.