What are the top 10 delightful ducks you can see in East Anglia?
- Credit: Archant
This time of the year is best to see ducks' dazzling plumage, says Emily Kench of the RSPB. Here's her East Anglian top 10.
Everything is a little empty at the moment. The warmth of bonfires has passed; reds, golds and greens of December feel just that bit too far away; and the branches of our once well-dressed trees stretch naked. Nothing lifts the slate-washed skies.
Even blacked-out silhouettes of passing wintering wildfowl can't offer contrast in a greyscale landscape. They add angles, loose shapes, train-horn honks, and impact still air with the beat of their wings, but no colour. From a distance that is…
On muddied scrapes and frozen ponds, sits little gems, or more aptly, sitting ducks. Ducks are at their most beautiful in winter. Males in particular dazzle with their exotic 'come-to-bed' breeding plumage. Boldness of the colours is often reflected in the species names: teal, goldeneye, red-breasted merganser.
Some ducks are surface feeders, others are diving ducks, some occupy ponds, others live out at sea, but all add splashes of colour in a cold challenging landscape.
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Ponds and Lakes:
1 Gadwall - dabbling ducks that look plain grey from a distance, but close up you can see intricate patterns on the breast and wings. They may look sweet and placid but gadwall are pirates of the pond. They love to eat plant matter: stems, leaves and seeds, but they can't always reach down far enough to get to the tasty underwater foliage. So they dabble around near where a coot has dived for food, and when it surfaces, grab the leaves from its beak. Look out for gadwall at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk.
2 Goldeneye - this diving duck has a distinctive buffalo-shaped head. In winter you'll find them on the far side of a lake on deep water (they're nervous around people). Males have a round, greenish-black head with a yellow (golden!) eye and white patch near the bill. Females are grey with a chocolate brown head. When the male wants to impress a female he dramatically throws his head back so that it is resting on the back of his body. Look out for goldeneye at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk.
3 Mallard - our most familiar ducks – probably the ducks you have fed bread to in your local park, but these days we know that peas, shredded lettuce, sweetcorn, oats and torn kale are much better for them, and complement the seeds, berries, insects and shellfish, and plants that make up their diet. You'll see mallards in ponds and lakes across the UK.
4 Pintail - a truly beautiful duck. The male has an elegant outline with a chocolate brown head, long white neck and the pointed tail from which it gets its name. The female is a mottled brown. Look for flocks of pintail, known as 'flights', at RSPB North Warren, Suffolk.
5 Teal - our smallest duck, found dabbling in wetlands throughout the UK. Males have chestnut heads with green eye patches, a spotted chest, grey flanks and a black-edged yellow tail. Female teal are mottled brown. Both show green wing patches, known as speculums, when they're flying. See them at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk, and RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk.
6 Wigeon - large numbers join our resident birds in winter as they flock from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. Listen for their calls: they whistle instead of quacking! Unlike most ducks, they spend much of their time on land, grazing short grass. You'll also see flocks of wigeon, known as 'companies', at RSPB Buckenham Marshes, Norfolk, and RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk.
7 Red-throated diver - the smallest of the UK's divers with a grey-brown plumage and up-tilted bill which readily distinguishes it from the other species. In summer it has a distinctive red throat. They usually jump up to dive and can stay underwater for a minute and a half. See them at RSPB North Warren and RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk.
On the coast
8 Eider - the UK's heaviest duck, and known for its association with bedding: the bird's fluffy feathers used to line its nests are harvested for 'eiderdowns'. There are about 63,000 eiders around our coasts in winter. See eider at RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk.
9 Common scoter - dark-coloured seaducks. Males are completely black, with a black and yellow bill, and females are dark grey. In winter up to 100,000 of these ducks gather in 'rafts' or long lines around our coasts where they feed on molluscs. You can see common scoter from RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk.
10 Long-tailed duck - the elegant looking male is white with black markings, a pink and black bill and elongated tail feathers. Females are white with brown and grey markings. In winter they feed on mussels, cockles, clams, crabs and small fish around our coasts. See them off the coast at RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk.