A trio of nonbreeding male Wood Ducks floats in the Horicon Marsh on a 70 degree calm Friday evening. Wood Ducks nest from April to August. Drakes begin molting their colorful breeding plumage in July, but retain their white throat, colorful bill, and distinctive red eye.
Molting birds are flightless for 3-4 weeks. Handsome new breeding plumage will develop later this summer.
The striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebe practices diving amid short marsh reeds. Pied-billed Grebes nest from April until October and may have two broods.
The adult Pied-billed Grebe stays within a few yards of its young and still has its breeding plumage. The male and female look alike. They can dive up to 20 feet and stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.
Mallards have a long nesting season from February to September. They typically have one brood. The ducklings are following their mother’s example, skimming the surface of the water for insects and vegetation.
A muskrat has been busy walking through the mud that is present along Highway 49 since the water level has been lowered. Dragging his tail creates the line between the tracks.
I’m not sure what this bird posture means. He could be saying, “I dare you to come closer, so I can eat you.” He may be saying, “I would leave if I were you, because this is MY tree!”
He may just be stressed because he is molting. He was flinging feathers with his bill in every direction.
Red-winged Blackbirds like to flash their colorful wing patch and loudly sing to defend their territory. They cover the wing patch when they enter another Red-winged Blackbird’s territory. This may be the most abundant bird in North America.
The male Mallard is keeping a low profile and enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. He has his nonbreeding plumage. He is still recognizable with the white bordered blue patch on his wing.
Mallards are one of the most common and familiar ducks on the Horicon Marsh. It is so ordinary to see them that it is easy not to give them a passing glance. This wasn’t always the case. Between 1914 and 1930 the Marsh was drained and used for agriculture. Ducks were rare and so were Canada Geese. Legend has it that a “Duck Liberation Day” was held in 1935 after a dam was built in Horicon and the Marsh was flooded again. Help was sought to release as many domestic ducks as possible at the Horicon Marsh, in the hope that their release would encourage wild ducks to migrate here. There were 1,180 ducks banded on Duck Day. The ducks were released as the high school band played and school children cheered. Duck Liberation Day was a success. Almost all domestic ducks come from the Mallard species. We now have at least 25 species of ducks on the Marsh. The next time you see an ordinary Mallard, let it remind you that it is part of the history of an extraordinary place, the Horicon Marsh.
If you would like to read more about this fascinating history, information from today’s post was taken from Wild Goose Marsh: Horicon Stopover by Robert E. Gard with photography by Edgar G. Mueller.