After the spring snows, waterfowl are out in force – InForum

In my March reflection, I said “barring the April snowstorm, I think we should see a slow increase in our local species over the next few weeks.”

In fact, we’ve had this snow storm several times actually. The birds were still pushing through the ice and snow and they could be heard singing through the treetops, grassland and wetlands. I spent every possible moment walking in the meadow or slouching near a flow or a wetland.

April is truly a beautiful time of year. With the large flocks of ducks and geese working across the landscape, I had ample photo opportunity. Waterfowl is my favorite, after all, so you could say I “dabbling” with the ducks.

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) – English Lava Flow Diversion Ponds – Grand Forks County, ND – Wild

Blue-winged teals are little missiles across the prairie. They’ll jump, fly and fall back into the water before you can even blink. They come from all angles, break all the rules of waterfowl flight, and are truly a pain to photograph! They’re commonplace in the Pothole Country of the Prairies, but it’s hard to get tired of them. Look for them in shallow wetlands (and flooded farmland…) in the area. They are small and fast, so be prepared!

A male Hooded Merganser in Sertoma Park in Grand Forks.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) – Sertoma Park – Grand Forks – Wild

Hooded mergansers, or hoodies, are incredibly unique. Everyone knows that mohawks are the best hairstyle, but combining a mohawk with the male’s high contrast black and white design is a bold statement! Even women are following the trend, but they are sticking to a more subtle buff hairstyle. Hoodies are cavity nesters. Females build a nest in a tree cavity or nest box. After hatching, the ducklings take a leap of faith out of the nest, often from a respectable height. In the spring, pairs will scout nesting sites, watch for them along wooded streams and lakeshores.

birds in flight or on water
A female Hooded Merganser.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

birds in flight or on water
A wood duck is seen in Sertoma Park in Grand Forks.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) – Sertoma Park – Grand Forks – Wild

Like hoodies, wood ducks are also commonly found along wooded waterways, where you’ll find a hoodie, you’ll likely find a wooded one too! Once you see them, they’re hard to miss.

These bright colors are a strong contrast to the dark, shady waterways. If you can’t see them, you’ll probably hear them! Males emit a “meowing” hiss and females emit a rich yodeling hew-eep call. Woodies also nest in cavities and are the only “perching duck” native to North Dakota.

birds in flight or on water
Mallard duck in the English lane in Grand Forks.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

birds in flight or on water

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhyncos) – English Casting – Grand Forks – Wild

I imagine that when you think of the word “duck”, you probably think of mallard! Mallards are often used as the standard by which all other ducks are compared, such as “a teal is smaller than a mallard”, “a pintail has a longer neck than a mallard”, etc. Their ubiquitous nature is not limited to North America. Mallard ranges have spread across much of the Northern Hemisphere, residing almost anywhere there is a spit of water. I’d offer suggestions on where to look for them, but you probably already know where to look.

birds in flight or on water
A pintail duck flies over rural English Coulee Creek in Grand Forks County.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) – English Lane Diversion Ponds – Grand Forks County, – Wild

It’s pretty easy to see how the pintail gets its name. With ranges spanning much of the northern hemisphere and a sharp pintail, you shouldn’t forget this duck’s name! Despite their slender and lanky build, they are often one of the first migrants to arrive in the North. When the ice cracks, the bibs are usually not far behind. Pintail populations collapsed between the 1970s and 1980s due to habitat loss and degradation. Fortunately, improving and restoring grasslands, wetlands and rangelands has stabilized the future of the Northern Pintail for now. Like the blue-winged teal, these birds are grassland wetland lovers, so get out of town and have a look! Don’t forget to “look” with your ears too, the males have a hissing signature of the species.

Hen Harrier (Circus hudsonius) – Rural English Creek Coulee – Grand Forks County

birds in flight or on water
A Hen Harrier is seen in Grand Forks County.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

I’ll give you a break from the ducks, but we’re not leaving the meadow! The Hen Harrier is my favorite raptor. They like to ride low, slow air currents over grasslands. They appear to levitate across the landscape while hunting rodents and birds. Males are smaller than females and have a silver-gray palette. Females and juveniles are buff brown. Both, however, have an obvious facial disc used to funnel sound to their ears. Like an owl! Once you see them, they’re hard to miss. They often hunt along ditches, grassland edges and wetlands. You will probably find them gliding easily across the grassland, barely flapping their wings.

May is likely to be extraordinarily busy for me. I’ll be graduating from UND, taking a week-long trip to Yellowstone with my buddies, and starting fieldwork along the Missouri River around Bismarck. Through it all, I will always be on the lookout for birds. For early May, I’m looking for more moving songbirds across the state. For Yellowstone, I look forward to Rocky Mountain species, birds and mammals. By the end of May, I look forward to breeding populations being established, nests being built, and the land being filled with birdsong.

Seth Owens is a bird watcher and photographer in Grand Forks and a frequent contributor to Northland Outdoors.

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