On Sunday morning Dave and I went to Haddon Lake Park. We’ve been there hundreds of time over the years. Sometimes I just need my duck-fix, so it’s the perfect place to spot waterfowl. As we strolled along things seemed pretty normal until Dave spotted something tiny floating in the water.
Upon closer examination, we learned that it was a female Ruddy Duck. Ruddy Ducks are common in the west year-round and are winter visitors here on the east coast. She may have recently arrived from migration. She was alone and was pretty busy trying to preen. She was splashing all over the place and diving occasionally. Ruddys are small and compact, with a length of 15 inches. Once Mallards started to swim by it was easier to see how much smaller she was compared to them (Mallards are around 23 inches in length). We determined she was a female because she was brown overall and had a dark stripe across her cheek.
Of the hundreds of times at Haddon Lake, this was our first Ruddy Duck sighting in this location. We’ve seen them at other lakes before (one of our most recent times was Manasquan Reservoir). It’s always exciting to see a new location species in an area you visit frequently. You never know what you’ll discover; that’s one reason I love birding so much.
This year it seems like there are a lot more hybrids than usual at Haddon Lake. Ducks are notorious for hybridizing, so it’s likely there are a few hybrids at your local lake too. We watched the Mallards and other hybrids swim around for awhile.
On the other side of the lake was a group of Mallards that were doing courtship displays. The males seemed to be gathering in a small group while the females swam around. Males (drakes) displayed by nod-swimming (swimming low and flat in short bursts), head-pumping, raising up out of the water, and flicking their heads. Although they don’t start to actually mate until the winter, pair bonds start to form in the fall. Mallards have a different mate each season. I was able to capture a short video of these behaviors.
If you want to learn more about Mallard courtship behavior, check out this article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called How to Recognize Duck Courtship Displays)
Other birds we saw on this walk were a Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-throated Sparrows, Canada Geese, Blue Jays, a Red-tailed Hawk, and Double-crested Cormorants. I was a little surprised to see Cormorants this late into the fall. I’m thinking that maybe since the weather has been so warm they didn’t leave yet. Either way, I’m always happy to see them. These Cormorants were sunning themselves after swimming.
Last week we had 5 days here in New Jersey that reached around 80 degrees. Today it finally cooled down, so hopefully we were start getting the fall weather we should be having. I’m looking forward to seeing more fall migrants over the next few weeks.