When other species go into hibernation during the cold winter months, it’s the waterfowl that entertain outdoor enthusiasts across the country. A group of concerned duck hunters turned conservationists founded the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Old Ice Pond for starving waterfowl affected by the devastatingly cold winter of 1933 – 1934, and ducks have been visiting our wintry freshwater haven ever since.
The American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) graces the Quogue Wildlife Refuge logo and has been the symbol of the Refuge since 1934. This shy species of duck often stays in the furthest reaches of Old Ice Pond where they dabble for aquatic plants and insects after their long migration from breeding grounds in the northeastern US and Canada. Both the male and female Black Duck have a similar appearance to the female Mallard Duck, with overall chocolate brown feathers. To determine the subtle differences, look for darker plumage than the female Mallard, an olive-yellow bill, and a grayish face. The American Black Duck population has declined significantly since the mid-20th century due to overhunting, deforestation, and urbanization of their historic habitat, but can still be spotted in large flocks here at the Refuge.
The Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) is a tiny jewel among many beautiful species of waterfowl. Most recognizable by the males’ striking black and white crest plumage, this small species of duck grows to be about 18 inches in length. Females are a beautiful buff brown with matching brown crest, and can be seen diving in the shallow waters of Old Ice Pond hunting fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans. They spot prey with their keen eyesight, and even have a third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, that acts like goggles for their search underwater. Come with binoculars to spot this small duck with a bold personality!
The graceful long neck and elongated tail feathers of the drake (male) make the Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) a recognizable visitor to Old Ice Pond. Although the female Pintail has varying shades of brown plumage, she is identifiable by the same elegant neck and body shape as her mate. Pintails dabble at the surface of the pond for food, and tip upside down with their long tail in the air and their heads searching for food at the bottom of shallow water. Northern Pintails breed in Siberia, Northern US, Canada, and Europe and make a southward migration in the Fall, some ending their journey near the equator.
Without the flashy and bright plumage that many other waterfowl species have, the Gadwall (Anas strepera) often goes unnoticed among flocks of other dabbling ducks. Males have an intricate pattern of brown, gray, and black feathers while females have a mottled brown and buff body. Both male and female Gadwall sport a white speculum (wing patch) that can occasionally be seen when swimming. Although they sometimes steal food from the bills of other species, they are more often found grazing on submerged aquatic vegetation. This species is monogamous, and over 90% are paired by November. They spend the next five months together until the female builds her ground nest during the Spring on the central plains of the US and Canada.
Other species of waterfowl, including the American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Green Winged Teal, Long-tailed Duck, Brant, Northern Shoveler and many more, join year round residents like Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese, and Wood Ducks on Old Ice Pond. Be sure to watch for hybrid ducks, accidentals from Europe, and rare variations in plumage. Grab a pair of binoculars and check out these flashy waterfowl on your next visit!