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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Let's Get Quacking!

Today we learned about the Mallard and the Wood Duck.  For all those who say all waterfowl are alike...I would like to say...


This is what we learned about these two species of waterfowl:

Wood duck 
General information 
Wood ducks are primarily found along rivers and large creeks within bottomland hardwood forests, Stage 3 wetlands and swamps with emergent woody vegetation adjacent to Stage 2 wetlands, and shallowly flooded Stages 5 and 6 hardwood forest. Wood ducks nest within cavities. Usually, nest sites are within or adjacent to flooded timber; however, wood ducks have been known to nest up to one mile from water. Cavity availability is critical for a sustainable population. Thus, artificial cavities are readily used by wood ducks and have been, most likely, the number one reason for the increase in wood duck populations during the past 50 years.

Habitat requirements
Diet: acorns are the primary diet item in fall and winter; other hard mast, various miscellaneous seeds and soft mast, as well as waste grain (especially corn) also are eaten; in¬sects and other invertebrates are most important for wood duck chicks and hens prior to and during the nesting season

Water: obtain water through diet and drink free-standing water regularly; see cover requirements below

Cover: Stage 3 wetlands and swamps; shallowly flooded bottomland hardwoods; nest in tree cavities in stage 6 hardwoods and artificial cavities

General information 
The mallard has one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any duck in North America, extending across the northern one-third of the U.S., and up to the Bering Sea. As migratory waterfowl, they winter south of Canada, throughout the U.S. and south to Central America. Mallards are dabbling ducks that nest in tall grasses and forbs or in shrubby cover. They need open water (Stage 2 of wetland succession) with associated emergent aquatic vegetation (Stage 3) to raise young. Mallards prefer to spend the winter in wetlands that contain all 4 wetland stages, including Stage 1 (open water) and Stage 4 (harvested grain crops). In addition, riparian areas with open water may be used. These birds feed at or near the surface of the water by filtering food items such as invertebrates, seeds and other plant material. Dabbling ducks are often seen tipping upside down in the water to reach food at the bottom of a wetland. Unlike diving ducks, they feed in much shallower water and do not dive to obtain food.

Habitat requirements
Diet: aquatic plants, insects and other invertebrates, hard mast (especially acorns), grains and other seed are primary components in the diet; ducklings eat mostly aquatic insects; most food is associated with wet¬lands, but mallards will readily dry-feed in agricultural fields during winter

Water: see cover requirements below

Cover: nest in grass and forb vegetation (some¬times they nest under shrubs) preferably within one-half mile of a wetland that provides open water with some adjacent emergent aquatic vegetation; brooding cover is open water with considerable emergent aquatic vegetation for protection from predators; ideally, wetlands have a minimum of 50 percent open water and 10 percent to 20 percent emergent vegetation; in wintering areas, mallards rest on open water bodies, such as streams, rivers and warm-water sloughs

We also learned about wetland succession in order to understand the habitat needs of these birds.  Wetlands are much like a forested area as far as the emergence of plant life.  However, it looks very different...also there are only four stages of succession.  Here are the basic stages we discussed:

Stage 1 — deep water with little vegetation,
Stage 2 — shallow water dominated by submerged and floating aquatic vegetation,
Stage 3 — very shallow water or wet ground dominated by any variety of emergent aquatic vegetation Stage 4 — ground becomes drier and upland vegetation similar to the surrounding area becomes dominant

We then learned about home range and seasonal home range, which brought us to the topic of migration.

A home range is the area in which an animal lives.  A seasonal home range can be defined if an animal uses a different area during different seasons. A seasonal movement, or migration, is made when an animal moves from one seasonal home range to another. Migration for many species, such as waterfowl and songbirds, involves movements to and from wintering and nesting areas.  Long migrations require available habitat along the route.  Areas of suitable habitat or paths that do not restrict movement are required for animals to move from areas within their home range or during migration. These areas are known as corridors

Here is a picture of the corridor paths in North America:

After all of this information, the 4Hers were given a task within their team groups.  They were asked to draw or write a scenario for both species that would show the ideal habitat.  Since these species are very different in their needs, the idea was to show the difference in the land that would be managed for these species.  The groups did a great job with this activity.  Both groups (and Sean our lone senior) chose to draw their land sites which included keys.  This was a good practice to prepare them for contest.
So, after all of that sitting...I decided to let them have fun with a game!  We played Migratory Headache from my Aquatic Wild book!  Well, that was the plan...but this is how I adapted it to fit our situation:
We had a great location for this game to work...a basketball court the day after a hard rain.  There were several puddles of shallow water and the playground (that is filled with pea gravel) had washed out some of its gravel onto the court.  I had all the 4Hers line up along one end of the court (Canada) and told them they needed to get to the other side (Mexico).  The north end of the court was their wintering location and the south end was their nesting area.  The object of the game was to go from their wintering location, find two stopover locations (puddles) to find food (5 pieces of pea gravel at each location) and then find a nesting location to have babies (leaf of their choice), and then return with the same pattern (two more stopovers) before returning to their wintering spots!  Oh...and in order to keep from falling over each other, they needed to be a wingspan apart from each other!

We played this game twice and it was so much fun for them to play and for me to watch.  The first migration went well...and everyone found their needs met.  The second migration...I took out some areas set aside for stopovers because of environmental scenarios as well limited the nesting area.  We lost two birds in that migration.  It was a great way to show the importance of our wetlands.  And, I think everyone enjoyed getting the chance to run (fly) around like birds.

SIDE NOTE:  While the 4Hers were busy creating their ideal scenarios, we spotted a woodpecker on a tree close by...Sean could not resist checking it out closer.  Ms Renee and I joined him and I got a picture of it when it stuck its head around the tree before flying off.  I think we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker!  It is so fun to be able to know the birds we see!  Well at least try to know them and have the tools to look up those that we do not know! 

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