Nov 11 2011
Today I’ll finish the list of ducks you’re likely to see in western Pennsylvania with tips on how to identify them from a distance.
I’ve limited this series to ducks seen in the western part of the state, but our area is large and diverse so some birds are common in Erie and Crawford counties during migration, but not in Pittsburgh.
As before I’ll use abbreviations to save space and use mallards as our reference duck: “=M” is same size as mallard, “<M” smaller than mallard, “>M” bigger than mallard. “HFAM” means Hope For A Male because the females are really hard to identify.
So here goes:
- Scoters: These sea ducks spend the winter at the coast but are seen in flocks during migration at Lake Erie. Lumpy bill. Males almost completely black. Females brown. These species look alike from afar. Definitely difficult divers.
- Surf scoter: =M. Least common of the 3 in western PA. Male all black, white eye ring, white on forehead and back of head, colorful black-white-orange bill. HFAM.
- Black scoter: slightly <M. Male all black. Orange-yellow lump on top of bill. Female brown with paler face, neck. HFAM.
- White-winged scoter: =M. Male all black with white eye shadow below his eye and orange tip on black bill. White wing may be hard to see when swimming. HFAM.
- Long-tailed duck: < M. Small round head, stubby bill, brown cheek. Male has unmistakably long tail but often drags it on the water when swimming. Male mostly white in winter, brown cheek and chest. Female duller with brownish back. Wears 3 plumages per year so check your field guide. Unusual in southwestern PA.
- Common Goldeneye: < M. Bulbous, almost triangular, dark head. Golden eye. In spring, male mostly white, some black on back, head blackish-green with white face spot. Female and eclipse male: brownish back and white belly topped by chocolate brown, bulbous head.
- Bufflehead: <<M. Very small duck with large round head. Male mostly white, black on back, big white quarter-of-a-pie on top-back of head. Female is a same shape in brown with white cheek splash on brown head.
- Ruddy duck: <<M. Very small brownish duck with short neck, large head, large broad bill, white cheek patch. In spring, male is ruddy-colored with black head, bright white cheek, blue bill (!) and cocked tail while swimming. Learn this duck’s profile and you’ll know him no matter what plumage he’s in.
- NOT a duck but a small diver — Pied-billed Grebe: << M. Very small brown bird same size as bufflehead but with longer neck, stubby bill. When diving, appears to jump up and arc into the water rather than slip into it.
Armed with these hints, can you identify the birds above? …I didn’t label them this time…
(photo by Bobby Greene)