Duck spotting at Ashbridges Bay

PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Warm beautiful sunny days keep drawing me to visit Ashbridges Bay over and over again.  If you choose to follow one of the great paths to walk by the water you will be rewarded and see many wintering ducks swimming close to the shore.  At Ashbridges Bay I have been happy to see Bufflehead Ducks, Golden-eyed Ducks, Long-tailed Ducks and many more.  The ducks are diving and waddling back and forth and seem to be playing with each other.  Sometimes you can hear them calling out – the Long-tailed Ducks love to yodel.

Recently, while sitting on the rocks at Ashbridges Bay (one of my favourite places to watch wildlife in the city) I became aware of this beautiful large female duck with cinnamon-brown head and spiked crest (hair), bright red eyes, a long, thin, orange to red-orange bill and red feet.  The serrated bill is perfect for catching fish, some minnows and other small fish. She was a red-breasted merganser. I saw her starting to run on the surface of the water, in preparation to take off in flight  as she was being chased by a Ring-billed Gull who wanted her fish. The merganser won the battle by landing and swallowing the fish whole.

You will be interested to know that the male merganser has some different features such as a dark green head (almost black except in the bright sun) with a spiked green hairdo, white neck and reddish breast with dark streaks..

Some cool facts about the Red-Breasted Merganser:
They breed as far away as Alaska and across northern Canada and they nest in forested areas along northern rivers and lakes. They lay between 5-11 eggs. The chicks have a dense layer of down, which provides them with excellent insulation by trapping air which makes them buoyant. The merganser can live in both salt water and fresh water. Their plumage is suitable for cold climates. Adult Red-Breasted Mergansers are 51-61cm (16 inches) long with a wingspan of 70-86cm (33 inches).  They seldom make calls except during courtship, when the male makes a cat-like “yeow yeow” and the female a harsh “gruk.”
Make time for a walk to Ashbridges Bay or Tommy Thompson Park and enjoy these beautiful ducks that visit us during the winter months.  You will be amazed by the vibrant colours and plumage they have. Spring is around the corner.

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