Skip to main content

Common Goldeneye: Aquatic Break-dancer

Photo: John Pogacnik

NATURE
The Columbus Dispatch
February 7th, 2010
Jim McCormac

Goldeneye striking in looks, action

Probably no other group of birds has had the impact on conservation that waterfowl has. Most people are familiar with the mallards and Canada geese that frequent ponds, but there is much more to the ducky crowd. Forty-three species of ducks, geese, and swans have occurred in Ohio, and most of them are common, at least in migration.

In the 1930’s, Dust Bowl droughts had depleted North America’s waterfowl to perilously low levels. From the dusty ashes of near catastrophe arose a group that is now one of the world’s most effective conservation organizations. The year 1937 marked the formation of Ducks Unlimited, and in their 73 year history they’ve raised $3 billion which has gone to protect well over 12 million acres of habitat.

A good thing, as waterfowl rank high among our most interesting, beautiful birds. And protecting their habitat also safeguards scores of other animals, and lots of plants, too.

Hardy beasts, waterfowl are among the very first migrants to push north in spring. Today’s date is February 7th – very much winter in our eyes – but already the spring wanderlust is striking some ducks.

One of the toughest of this crowd is the common goldeneye. These diving ducks will stay about as far north as open water can be found, cavorting in the icy water of open leads as comfortably as if afloat in a tropical sea. Goldeneyes are already chomping at the bit, moving north as fast as thaws open up water, in their quest to reach northern breeding grounds.

Drake goldeneyes are art sculpted in feathers. Black and white is the dominant theme, creating a gorgeous piebald pattern. It’s as if the male’s head was dunked in inky paint, the jet-black noggin marked with an oval white spot just aft of the bill. Brilliant yellow eyes appear as topaz jewels imbedded in coal, their contrast lending the duck a perpetually surprised appearance.

Some ducks merely tip up in shallow water to feed, their butts sticking above the surface. Not so the goldeneye. These are divers, plunging down deep to harvest goodies unavailable to fowl that only dabble at the surface. Watching feeding goldeneyes cavorting among ice floes gives one a real respect for avian engineering and the insulating ability of feathers. A human submerged in such waters would be lucky to last 20 minutes.

About now, hormones flood drake goldeneyes and their thoughts turn to the ladies. Coy and aloof, the somber brown hens require work to woo. So, stud goldeneyes become aquatic break-dancers, pulling out all the stops to get the girl. A courting male throws his head back till his bill is vertical, folding into a floating pretzel. It’ll then scoot forward, thrusting a pair of brilliant orange webbed feet from the water, all the while shaking its head and pirouetting about.

It must work. Common goldeneyes are still common.

Jim McCormac

Further Afield

One of the easiest, most effective ways to help waterfowl and wetlands is by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, more popularly known as the “Duck Stamp”. The 2010 stamp features a gorgeous American wigeon . Since its inception in 1934, Duck Stamp sales have generated over $750 million, and protected nearly 5 ½ million acres.

Duck stamps will be available at a waterfowl symposium to be held the weekend of February 27-28 at the new Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus. Keynote speaker is Dr. Azzam Alwash, who leads restoration efforts of the massive wetlands flanked by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq. Conference details are HERE. Stamps can also be purchased at many post offices, and at: http://www.duckstamp.com/mm5/

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Space limitations in the newspaper sometimes lead to editing down my column. I am able to reprint the entire, original column here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…