Nature Bulletin No. 252-A January 14, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
All through the winter, along the shores of Lakes Michigan, Ontario and
Erie, considerable numbers of wild ducks may be seen in areas of open
water. Favored locations are those comparatively free from pollution
and kept free of ice by the continual discharge, into the lake, of warm
water from large stations generating electric power. They are also
commonly seen near Lincoln Park in Chicago, attracted there by the
feed put out for the captive wild ducks and geese in those lagoons.
Every year, expert observers report a few stragglers of several kinds
which mostly migrate to regions farther south and, occasionally, one or
more kinds usually found only on the Atlantic or Pacific coastlines.
Most of the ducks that winter here are of four species the American
Golden-eye, the Old Squaw, the White-winged Scoter, and the
The first three belong to a group known as the Diving Ducks which
inhabit the larger inland lakes and the sea coasts where they feed by
diving, often to considerable depths. Other than a few Black Ducks,
seldom do we find wintering here any members of the other large group
known as Surface-feeding Ducks or, locally, as "puddle" ducks or
"dipper" ducks because they frequent the shallow fresh waters of the
interiors and feed by up-ending themselves to dabble on the bottom.
Most diving ducks taste "fishy", and are hunted solely for sport,
because their food consists mainly of shellfish, crustaceans, small fish,
some insects, and small amounts of deep-water aquatic plants. Two
notable exceptions are the Redhead and the Canvasback. The wing
patch, if any, is less brightly colored on the diving ducks and the legs
are set farther back on the body -- which increases their ability to dive
and swim. Most of them patter along on the surface of the water for
some distance before rising into flight.
The American golden-eye is also known as the "whistler" because of
the vibrating whistling sound made by its wings in flight. On the water,
the male appears mainly white, with some black on the back, and its
large blackhead has a round white spot in front of the golden-yellow
eye. Most of them breed in Canada, from Newfoundland to Alaska, and
this is one of the few ducks that invariably nests in a hollow tree or
The old squaw, so-called because it is a noisy talkative duck, is
distinguished by its very long tail and its peculiar twisting flight just
above the water. They alight by dropping in suddenly with a great
splash. They nest on the ground in the sub-Arctic tundras and nearly
nine-tenths of their food is animal.
The white-winged scoter is a large black duck with a small white patch
near the eye and a white wing patch -- our only black duck so marked.
It nests on the ground in western Canada and its food is almost entirely
animal -- chiefly mollusks which it swallows whole. Shells of oysters,
scallops and mussels that require a hard hammer-blow to break, are
readily ground-up in its gizzard.
The American merganser has a stream-lined body and a narrow
cylindrical bill -- red and toothed -- which enables it to dive, pursue and
catch the fish upon which it feeds almost exclusively. This large
handsome bird flies swiftly, low over the water, with its bill, head, neck
and body all held perfectly horizontal. They nest in trees, cliffs or on
We'll take our oysters on the half-shell.
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Update: June 2012