Waterfowl

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In its strictest sense, the term “waterfowl” refers to birds of the Anatidae family—ducks, swans , geese—whose flattened beaks and fully webbed front toes define their tribe. Most are considered game birds (historically, at least), hunted by humans for food. Looser usage of the term includes waders (such as herons and egrets) and diving waterbirds like grebes, loons and coots. All are adapted, in varying capacities, to an amphibious milieu.

  • Green-winged Teal

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    One of the smallest dabbling ducks, flocks of Green-winged Teal move fast and erratic over wetlands, resembling shorebirds rather than waterfowl. Although not a common breeder in western Oregon, large numbers of these tiny teal winter along the coast in bays and estuaries, mudflats, and flooded agricultural fields. The Green-winged Teal eats plant matter, seeds, and the occasional invertebrate. In flight, vivid wing bars are revealed on both sexes; the male’s maroon head with its emerald comma is unmistakable.

  • American Wigeon

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    Like the ubiquitous Mallard, this handsome, gregarious, widespread duck belongs to the group known as dabblers. Dabbling ducks prefer shallower freshwater habitat, such as ponds and marshes. They feed by "dabbling" the surface of the water, tipping down instead of diving. Rather than running across the water to gain lift, dabblers take to flight by lifting directly off the surface. American Wigeons spend lots of time in bays and lakes, and graze like geese in pastures. These ducks scare off very easily, so spotting them must be done with care.

  • Northern Shoveler

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    There’s no mistaking this dabbling duck’s front-end loader of a bill. Northern Shovelers subsist almost entirely on tiny crustaceans strained from the water, and their long, spatulate bill seems perfectly suited to such work. These ducks winter on freshwater throughout western Oregon. Lucky observers can witness Northern Shovelers engage in cooperative feeding frenzies, in which up to a dozen ducks cluster in a tight-knit, slowly rotating raft, all with heads submerged, sieving particles kicked up by the bustle.

  • Bufflehead

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    From November through March Buffleheads flock to Oregon’s coast to fatten up before heading to Canada and Alaska to breed. The male’s plumage is a striking contrast of black-on-white, accented with purplish-green iridescence near the eyes; females are decked out in grayer tones. Notice how they dive, not dabble, for their quarry—a distinctive behavioral trait among the Merginae, or sea ducks, the subfamily to which Buffleheads belong. Aquatic insects and other invertebrates are what they’re after, and these they swallow whole, while underwaterBuffleheads on the Oregon coast are also known to eat herring eggs when available.

  • Common Merganser

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    These large diving ducks are found in almost every part of Oregon where open water is present. Common Mergansers live on both lakes and rivers, and can also be found on estuaries, bays and inlets. They are piscivorous in the main, having a finely serrated bill that grips fish with ease. Their diet may include juvenile salmonids, sculpin, trout, shrimp, and insect larvae. 

  • Wood Duck

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    Wintering throughout western Oregon in wet forested areas, the gaudy Wood Duck is an unforgettable sight. Similar to the Bufflehead, Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, often using nest boxes, previously used cavities, or old Pileated Woodpecker holes. Wood Ducks lay clutches of eight to fifteen eggs, sometimes exhibiting a curious behavior known as “dump nesting”: females seek out the nests of other Wood Ducks and lay eggs in them, distributing their clutch among many hens. Nests have been found containing 30 or more eggs, clearly from multiple ducks. This intra-specific brood parasitism is thought to be a response to nest predation or lack of suitable nesting sites. 

  • Double-crested Cormorant

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    The most abundant cormorant species throughout Oregon. Found in both fresh- and saltwater habitats, Double-crested Cormorants get their name from the jaunty white plumes sported by breeding adults. Most of the year, these birds can be identified by their yellowish cheeks and loresthe area between the bill and eye. Watch for them perched on rocks and dock pilings, wings outspread to dry in the sun.

  • Brown Pelican

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    California Brown Pelicans are huge and unmistakable visitors to the Oregon coast, stopping by on their migration to and from winter breeding grounds in southern California and Mexico. Since breeding occurs from January to May, many pelicans spend the summer months "wintering" here afterward. Watch their spectacular sidelong dives into the water for prey, using their famed three-gallon throat pouches as scoops. Only one other pelican (the closely related Peruvian species) feeds via plunge-diving—the rest of the world's eight pelican species employ less daring tactics. Look for low-flying squadrons of Brown Pelicans gliding in formation over the Pacific, wingtips nearly brushing, undulating gracefully above the waves.

  • Great Blue Heron

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    The Great Blue Heron stalks clearings and waterways across the continent, huge and gangling, long of leg and neck and possessed of a most unmusical croaking call. Equally at home in fresh-, salt- and brackish-water habitat, these wading birds spear frogs, fish, even mice and voles, flipping them with their bills to swallow whole.

  • Virginia Rail

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    A secretive wading bird more often heard than seen, the roan-plumaged Virginia Rail plies the tall reeds and sedges of Siletz Bay NWR’s freshwater and brackish wetlands and tidal marsh. A rattling call of “ket ket karrr” is typically all that betrays the rail’s presence as its slips through dense vegetation, aided by a laterally compressed body (hence, “thin as a rail”), long toes and powerful leg muscles. Feathers on its face are uniquely modified to resist the wear associated with forging head-first through scratchy marsh plants. When breeding, these birds are known to build so-called “dummy nests” in attempts to lead predators astray. Virginia Rails, along with the similarly-adapted Sora, forage in Siletz Bay’s mudflats and shallows for invertebrates, small fish and occasional seeds.

  • Eared Grebe

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    An abundant and attractive waterbird, Eared Grebes winter on the Pacific coast and further south throughout Mexico, drawing centrally to breed in the continent’s interior. Nests are fashioned from floating rafts of dead vegetation. Prior to leaving the interior for wintering grounds, Eared Grebes effect an incredible physiological transformation: their flight muscles atrophy while the digestive organs swell, allowing the birds to more than double their mass. At this point the grebes are flightless, and will remain so for anywhere between 3 and 8 months. Just before migration, this process is reversed: fat stores are converted into muscle and the alimentary tract shrinks with the expansion of the heart and pectorals, all in preparation for nonstop flight.