Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Ducks on Ice

Wood Ducks are one of my favorites.

Superficially, they can be somewhat similar to Mallards. For most of the year the males of both species have green heads, chestnut-breasts, canvas-colored sides, mostly-dark tails, and a band of white on their lower necks. 

Contrasting and observing these two species is a great place to start if you are just getting interested in birds. They are easy to find in the shallow waters around Union Bay. For the more experienced birders, these two species also have some more subtle differences.

For example, earlier this month when much of their preferred habitat was iced-over, I became entranced by a pair of Wood Ducks paddling through Duck Bay in the Arboretum.

When the male began climbing onto the edge of the ice, I thought this is interesting. 

The ice broke and I wondered if he would try again.

Instead, as the "berg" partially submerged, he pecked at the surface. Apparently, some small source of food floated off of the ice and became easier to retrieve.

Looking to the right, I noticed the female was having better luck getting onto the ice.

However, almost immediately she was also searching for food.

The male continued feeding. Even though I could not see anything on the ice, they must have been finding something really minuscule to eat. 

As they continued searching, a female of another species paddled past. Females are generally less colorful than males and therefore a bit more challenging to identify. 

I will leave this one unidentified as a challenge for the more experienced birders. However, she will be identified in the Going Native section at the end of the post.

Three Mallards paddled over. They were apparently curious what the Wood Ducks were eating.

The male Wood Duck sidled away but continued looking for food. Clearly, the relatively larger Mallards intimidated the smaller Wood Duck.

On average, Wood Ducks weigh around a pound and a half while Mallards weigh around two and a half pounds. There can be considerable variation in their weights. Examples that explain the variation may include the seasonal availability of food, whether a female has just laid eggs, whether the birds have just migrated hundreds of miles, or whether the shallow water where they normally feed is frozen over. 

Both species are considered dabbling ducks.

Neither species normally dives to chase fish or pull up the vegetation that grows below deeper water.

Although, this does not imply that they cannot dive. It is just not part of their preferred method of feeding.

The dive above was apparently part of a bathing display.

Which was followed by this flashing of wings.

Wood Ducks will often do a bathing display after mating and sometimes before as well. The males also do a variety of other displays including head jerks where they throw their heads backward.

Mallards often do head-pumping displays as part of courtship.

This can be easily overlooked since the bird is simply lowering its head. However, if the female responds the same way, this interaction often culminates in mating.

Another curious behavior is the way a Mallard will fully-commit to a head-down search for food. You would think this behavior would result in Bald Eagles plucking the unwary out of the water. Apparently this does not happen often enough to offset the value of the food they find.

On the other hand, Wood Ducks are generally more skittish than Mallards. As a matter of fact, while researching this post, I was not too surprised to learn that I had no photos of a Wood Duck feeding in this manner.

Speaking of Wood Ducks feeding, the male which we were following earlier, continued to search the edge of the ice.

The Mallards carefully observed his behavior, however they did not attempt to intervene or mimic the process. They simply sat as if they were waiting for the ice to melt.

Even though these birds live in the same habitat, and often eat similar food, they still have different habits and styles of feeding and mating.

Here are some other ways in which the two species differ. 

1) Wood Ducks nest in cavities. They will reuse pre-owned Pileated Woodpecker nest sites or artificial nest boxes. Nesting Mallards generally hide in tall grass and simply nest on the ground. Since Wood Ducks spend more time in trees they also have claws for climbing. Click Here to see photos of Wood Ducks in trees.

2) Mallards migrate more extensively. In North America, Mallards breed in much of Canada and virtually all of Alaska. Wood Ducks breed only as far north as southern Canada. Both birds breed in most of the lower 48 states. However, Mallards are scarce in Southeast Florida, and breeding Wood Ducks can be are hard to find in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

Because of the Wood Duck's nesting constraints, i.e. natural nests are normally only found in holes in large, dead, standing timber, they tend to nest in fewer locations than Mallards, especially in the Great Plain's states. By the way, unlike Wood Ducks, Mallards also breed in Europe and much of Asia.

After the breeding season, for three of four weeks both species replace their flight feathers, during which time they lose the ability to fly. This occurrence is most obvious among males because they also lose their breeding plumage. This makes them look a lot like females. During mid to late summer, people occasionally ask, Where did all the males go? This non-breeding plumage is generally referred to as eclipse plumage.

At this time, the male Mallards can be most easily identified by their yellow bills, which contrast quite clearly with the orange and black of a female's bill.

With male Wood Ducks, their most striking feature(s), during eclipse plumage, are their red eyes.

First-year males look similar to adult females and adult males in eclipse plumage. Although in late summer they often develop white "finger-like" markings on the face. These markings normally indicate a male. In combination with dark eyes, the markings suggests a young male who is not yet fully mature.

When you visit Union Bay, in 2022, I hope you are inspired to take a closer look at the ducks!


Heads Up:

This event will benefit the Arboretum and the local wildlife. However, Ciscoe's energy and excitement alone are reward enough for investing a single hour.

Registration is now open for THE ART OF NATURE - our virtual gala and auction, taking place on Thursday, February 10, from 6 to 7 p.m.

Please join us for an unforgettable hour celebrating the connections between art and the natural world - while supporting core horticulture, education, and volunteer programs at the Arboretum, as well as cultural programs at the Seattle Japanese Garden.

Click the brown button below to access our gala page on the Greater Giving website and register. This is where you'll be able to view our livestream on February 10 and participate in our online auction, starting February 7.

Registration is FREE: To sign up for the livestream and auction, click the "GET STARTED" button on the right side of the gala page and follow the instructions.

Registered last year? If you already created a Greater Giving account in 2021, simply click "GET STARTED," log in, update your information, and you'll be good to go!
5 Reasons Not to Miss the Gala!
  1. King 5's Angela Poe Russell returns to emcee and will be joined on stage by TV/radio personality Ciscoe Morris.
  2. You'll learn about the art and design of Washington Park Arboretum.
  3. You'll meet major artists whose work has been inspired by nature and the beauty of the Arboretum. 
  4. You'll enjoy special performances, fun surprises, and the chance to bid on unique auction items.
  5. You'll be supporting what you love!

Can't tune in to the gala? Please make a gift to the Arboretum today!
Need Help With Registration?
Watch this short how-to video on signing up to bid and donate on Greater Giving.

NOTE: Upon registering, Greater Giving will invite you to "start bidding" right away. Please ignore. This is a default message we can't alter. Auction bidding will open February 7.

Questions & assistance: We're also happy to help. Call us at 206-325-4510 or email info@arboretumfoundation.org.
Event Co-Chairs: Joanna Thiagarajan & Bill McGee
Thanks to Our Sponsors!


Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (When native plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

Click Here to access a King County publication that explains the best placement for a wide variety of native plants. It looks extremely helpful.

Also, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is very helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.


In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

 Is this species native to Western Washington? What type of duck is it?

Scroll down for the answer.


American Wigeon: Yes. It is native to Washington state. Click on the name and read more about this bird on Seattle Audubon's Birdweb.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021,
 Google has discontinued the service.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is:  



The Comment Challenge:

Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the 
robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse. 

Bottom Line: 

If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.

My email address is:  




Final Photos:

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