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Wigeons Over-Winter at Green Lake

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WINTERING WIGEONS BACK AT GREEN LAKE

by Martin Muller

The American Wigeon (Anas Americana; images #1 & #2) are so-called dabbling ducks, the group of ducks that includes the well-know Mallard.

That means they don't dive for their mostly vegetarian diet. At best they will up-end, extending their neck and head as deep down in the water as possible. American Wigeons winter in Green Lake Park. A few first show up in September, feeding on plants out in the lake (they love Millfoil!)

As the water gets colder and plants die back, the wigeons first stick with the much better-diving American Coots (Fulica americana) and take some of the plants the coots bring to the surface. As underwater vegetation continues to get scarcer the coots get more defensive of their hard-earned meal, and the wigeons move onto the lawns around the lake, where they graze, snipping off he leafy parts of the abundant grasses.

By April most of them will have left western Washington for their breeding grounds east of the Cascades and north over most of Canada and Alaska.

A close relative, the Eurasian Wigeon (Anas Penelope; image #3), shows up in much smaller numbers, usually about 3 Eurasians to 300+ Americans, at Green Lake. The male Eurasians are easily recognized by their gray flanks, chestnut breast and reddish head.

As you listen for the two or three-syllable "rubber ducky" whistle of the American Wigeon, wait for the single-syllable, longer drawn-out whistle of the Eurasian Wigeon.

As is common with closely related bird species occurring in the same locale, hybrids (crosses between two species) will show up. Image #4 depicts one such male hybrid, clearly showing a mixture of both parents' field marks.

Observe the feeding flock and watch for sentinels. While most are eating, some will have their head up, on the lookout for threats. By the end of their winter stay these birds will know the difference between an unsupervised loose dog (a great threat causing urgent alarm and mass flight to water), a loose dog under voice control (a milder threat causing alarm and some waddling movement away from the dog) or a dog on a leash (no threat - they just keep an eye on it).


All photos ©Martin Muller.

A LITTLE ABOUT MARTIN MULLER

Audubon Society Master Birder Martin Muller lived in the Green Lake neighborhood from 1983 to 2003, and studied the bird life of the lake extensively. His list of bird species seen at the lake includes both common year-round residents and rare migrants flying over the lake. This list is based on monthly counts from November 1987 through 1988 and weekly counts from January 1988 through May 1999 by Martin J. Muller with additional data from Eugene Hunn, Scott Richardson, and Ruth Taylor.

Martin periodically leads popular bird walks at Green Lake and has given presentations and slide shows on Green Lake birds under sponsorship of Friends of Green Lake, with images selected from his extensive collection of more than 2,000 photos. He is also an active member of the Falcon Research Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of field research, public education, and the conservation of raptors. They are currently involved in banding Peregrine Falcons to follow their migration and survival - a project involving participants from several countries. The Falcon Research Group has banded a total of 253 eyass Peregrine Falcons in the Pacific Northwest since 1995. See Martin's story about a Peregrine Falcon at Green Lake.


You can contact Martin by sending an email to the Friends of Green Lake.

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Updated May 9, 2013

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