A Duck Hunter’s Ideas for Rapidly Figuring out Waterfowl on the Wing

There’s a second that stands out vividly in my early days as a duck hunter. One sunny morning on a hunt with pals in California’s Sacramento Valley, hiding in bulrush as a flock of geese got here in, I noticed a blinding flash of white on the wings of one among them. A buddy dropped the fowl cleanly. It was a good-looking male American Wigeon, a duck that may make excellent desk fare.

It was a watershed second for me, as a result of I had by no means been capable of establish a duck’s species whereas it was dashing by within the air; till then I’d relied on my mentors to inform me what I might shoot to remain inside authorized limits. However from that time on, I knew that daring, white flash meant drake wigeon.

Searching geese could also be in your “nope, by no means” record, however the identification methods hunters use are value studying.

Earlier than I let you know how I establish geese, although, you would possibly wish to know why I wish to shoot them. At the start, searching is how I put wholesome, sustainably sourced meat on my desk. It additionally provides me shops of inventory that beats bland, over-salted store-bought broths, and rendered fats that we use in recipes year-round.

But it surely’s greater than that. I like all the pieces about searching. It begins with loving the marsh and all its denizens. (I don’t know a hunter who’s not enchanted by the Marsh Wrens that chatter at us as we attempt to disguise, or who fails to gasp with delight when a flock of Pink-winged Blackbirds sweeps inches over our heads.) I reside for the moments all the pieces goes proper—when geese reply to my name and fly inside gun vary—as a result of more often than not, they outsmart me.

I’m additionally proud that hunters are a serious pressure for conservation. Waterfowl are a contented asterisk within the in any other case alarming declines in fowl populations, due to many years of wetland conservation funded largely by searching license purchases, taxes on weapons and ammunition, and charitable contributions. Trendy searching rules in North America are designed to place the brakes on searching nicely earlier than it’d threaten a species, and the consequence has been that no recreation species has been endangered or extinguished as a result of searching below this method. We fortunately tax ourselves to avoid wasting, restore, and keep habitat.

For hunters, with the ability to establish a species earlier than we shoot is critically essential: Along with a basic every day “bag restrict,” some species have decrease limits. Others, akin to mergansers, simply don’t style good. Our window of alternative to shoot might be temporary, so we should make snap judgments. Right here’s how I establish the most typical geese I see on my hunts. I’ve omitted geese as a result of whereas I do hunt them, they’re much simpler to establish on the wing.

Is it a duck?

It could sound apparent, however the very first thing a duck hunter should study is the distinction between a duck and different waterbirds present in the identical environments, akin to coots, cormorants, ibises, grebes and shorebirds. Birders can use the identical cues.

Most geese have roughly potato-shaped torsos, egg-shaped heads, and lengthy necks. Whereas physique measurement varies amongst species, the potato-to-egg ratio is an efficient approximation, so long as we’re speaking Russet, not fingerlings. (Geese have equally formed our bodies, however greater, so it’s extra like a football-to-egg ratio.) Apart from mergansers, geese and geese even have rounded payments, not pointy beaks like many different waterbirds.

Geese even have a particular wingbeat, even from geese: There’s no flap-glide-flap-glide; these wings cease flapping solely throughout a descent, at which level they cup like an umbrella and the birds glide down like Mary Poppins in a rush.

When coming in for a touchdown, their legs grasp down, and that is the one time we will clearly see the webbed toes, as a result of geese maintain their toes tucked near their our bodies in flight.

A black duck-like bird with big scaly yellow feet, a white beak, and a bright red eye takes off from the water.
Although American Coots look just like geese, birders can distinguish them by their pointy beaks and dangling toes in flight. Photograph: Peter Brannon/Audubon Pictures Awards

The not-duck more than likely to be confused for a duck is an American Coot, as a result of they use the identical habitat as geese and have related proportions. However coot toes grasp behind them in routine flight, and coots have pointy white beaks, not rounded payments.

What sound is it making?

I started figuring out most geese first by sound, as a result of it’s simpler to discover geese that manner: My eyes might see solely what was in entrance of me, however my ears might detect something round me. My research useful resource was the Geese Limitless identification web page.

Amongst dabbling geese—people who are inclined to feed just under the floor with their butts within the air, versus diving geese that feed farther under the floor—hens usually quack, and it may be difficult to differentiate between them. The exception is the feminine Inexperienced-winged Teal, whose quack sounds just like the cackle of the Depraved Witch of the West, on helium.

Drake dabblers in North America, although, have very distinctive whistles. Right here’s what they sound prefer to me:

Mallard: zshwee, zshwee.

Northern Shoveler: tsibit, tsibit, tsibit.

Gadwall: a nasal meep meep.

American Wigeon: a whistley whoo-WHHHEAT-who.

Inexperienced-winged Teal: a high-pitched prrp prrp (with a bit of trill)—assume police whistle briefly bursts.

Northern Pintail: a deeper, slower, fluty prrp prrptrill; additionally, a slide-whistle sound that’s a bit dolphin-like.

One other species we generally encounter, the Wooden Duck, is from a unique genus (Aix) than the geese above (Anas), and appropriately makes very completely different sounds: the drake a humorous zeet zeet that rises and falls (once more, assume slide whistle), the hen a rising squeal described as oo-eek.

As soon as you recognize these sounds, if you happen to hear them coming from a solo duck, you may have a definitive ID. If it’s a drake with a hen, the hen is probably to be the identical species, however you’ll wish to look onerous to confirm visible traits. When you get the grasp of drakes, you possibly can deal with the subtler distinctions of hens.

However if you happen to hear it coming from a bunch of geese, make no assumptions. Geese are extremely social and can fly in blended teams. Simply since you hear an American Wigeon doesn’t imply each fowl in that flock is an American Wigeon.

What does it appear like?

The visible cues that duck hunters decide up on can fluctuate broadly from hunter to hunter, as a result of it’s all about what catches your eye. I are inclined to see distinctive feather patterns; others see physique form and wingbeat.

Colours stand out once we hunt in sunny climate, however not a lot when it’s overcast or raining. Beneath these circumstances, I search for patterns of distinction, not colours. Right here once more, we key in on the drakes at first, as a result of hens are largely brown, although their silhouettes can present clues as nicely.

A small flock of white and brown ducks flying in the same direction in an overcast sky.
Northern Pintails. Photograph: Bobby Nicks/Audubon Pictures Awards

These are the options on drakes that stand out to me:

American Wigeon: A medium-size duck with reddish coloring. I look ahead to an enormous white rectangle patch on the wing that appears sq. in flight. Others key in on the white racing stripe on prime of the pinnacle and the petite powder-blue invoice.

Gadwall: A largely brown duck with a a lot smaller white rectangle patch on the wing. It additionally has a small black invoice and a medium-large physique with a daring black butt. (I by no means discover the butt, however lots of my pals focus on it.)

Northern Shoveler: I residence in on its white shoulders and rust-colored stomach. It has a medium-small physique however with an absurdly giant spoon-shaped invoice on its darkish inexperienced head.

Mallard: An enormous duck with physique colours reverse of shoveler: rust-colored shoulders and pale stomach. It additionally has a inexperienced head.

Inexperienced-winged Teal: A small duck whose erratic flight—our bodies typically gyrate round always-upright heads—makes it onerous to see feather patterns clearly. I search for a cinnamon head on a physique of grays and browns.

Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal: These birds are small like Inexperienced-wings, however with large powder-blue patches on their wings. Cinnamons have a particular deep-red physique. The hens of those two species are extraordinarily onerous even for a lot of biologists to distinguish.

Northern Pintail: This species sports activities a chocolate head, lengthy giant physique, lengthy neck with a white swoosh pointing towards the pinnacle, and lengthy, pointy tail feather. (It’s really a number of feathers, however seems to be like one.)

Wooden Duck: Search for a particular “hood” and a colourful invoice with purple, yellow, white, and black. In flight Wooden Geese’ tail feathers look blocky and sq.. The hen, largely grey, is simple to identify due to the white teardrop form round her eyes.

Mergansers: These fish-eaters—Widespread, Hooded and Pink-Breasted—have distinctive slender “sawbills,” however these don’t actually stand out in flight. As a substitute, my buddy Chris Nicolai, waterfowl scientist for Delta Waterfowl, says the trait he keys in on is that mergansers’ up-and-down wing strokes are rather more shallow than different geese’.

When the geese aren’t speaking, these visible cues can present a definitive ID. And while you mix each sights and sounds of a solo duck, you possibly can be ok with your evaluation. Whether or not your objective is placing meat in your desk or increasing your data of waterbirds, there’s one thing deeply satisfying about with the ability to confidently establish a fast-moving fowl.

Autor Holly A. Heyser


Journalist specialized in online marketing as Social Media Manager. I help professionals and companies to become more Internet and online reputation, which allows to give life to the Social Media Strategies defined for the Company, and thus immortalize brands, products and services. I have participated as an exhibitor in various forums nationally and internationally, I am the author of several articles in digital magazines and Blogs.

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