Wetland Wonders: Uplifting Info on Duck Populations
With the current debate over the health of marine ecosystems, the world is starting to get to grips with what’s been done to natural rivers, streams and of course, oceans. As someone who finds inspiration in wildlife around them, I decided to research an aquatic subject close to home, in the waterfowl family. Ducks. Ducks such as the White-headed duck, naturally occurring in Europe, are one example of population decline where hunting and habitat loss has lead to dramatic reductions. A recovery programme protecting breeding sites and a ban on hunting has witnessed an increase in numbers, yet some species aren’t so lucky, the threat of extinction remaining. Contrast to this, in researching UK populations, a few species caught my eye as not only surviving but succeeding. I wanted to talk more about the ducks that are indeed, flying.
The Goosander, a diving duck with a pension for salmon has a ‘green’ UK Conservation Status. Goosanders are by definition in the least critical group, and are widespread throughout the UK. These ducks have a lot of strengths that help them thrive such as long, narrow bills with sharp teeth, great for gripping fish. As well as this they are a long bird, shaped to swim after fish. They first bred in the UK in 1871, which helped establish numbers in northern areas, perhaps another key to their success. Goosanders started to move south and are now even resident in south west England. These clever, excellent fishers are naturally winning and in the UK, have 3,100-3,800 breeding pairs.
The Eurasian teal, a small duck with pretty green patches is another winged friend that makes the list. Teal is the smallest native duck and best seen in winter. Wintering teals to the UK has seen a 40% increase in the last decades. Especially large numbers migrate in harsher winters and back in the crazy cold climate of 2010/2011, they flocked. As for last winter, goodness knows teals knew where they were holidaying that year. Whilst there has been an increase in wintering birds, the same cannot be said for resident populations where the extent of breeding ranges has unfortunately been decreasing.
Just like goosanders, the red-breasted merganser is another waterfowl listed as ‘green’ for UK Conservation Status. Startlingly similar to goosanders too, this duck loves salmon and their long bills lend themselves to catching fish. Red-breasted mergansers inhabit coastlines and call both freshwater and saltwater home. This has been an advantage to these ducks, a long with an extensive diet of small fish, crustaceans, tadpoles and insects. Beautiful colours on both males and females, these are definitely ducks to look out for.
It brightens one to hear some good conservation info and I thought of no better subject than ducks. Wetlands habitats and reserves are more important than ever to these species as land-use changes consistently came up in my research on ‘amber’ lists. It was fascinating to read about how the above ducks live, making me want to revisit and touch on species that are perhaps more in need of some assistance. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: ducklings are adorable. And I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more in what is shaping up to be these gorgeous early days of spring.
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