This time of year when ducks and other waterfowl congregate on Seattle’s lakes, ponds, and shorelines. And that’s great news for kids interested in birds.
For starters, ducks are easy. You can see them without binoculars, they stay out in the open, and most of them are not very wary of humans.
They are beautiful. This time of year is mating season, and males are sporting their brightest feathers and most eye-catching patterns. And they’re endearing.
Always something going on
Ed Dominguez used to be the lead naturalist at the Seward Park Audubon Center. Since the center closed and he was laid off, he has been making a living doing field trips for microschool pods and other small groups.
He’s had a lot of fun with kids over the years, watching winter ducks in action. Kids delight in the way diving ducks will pop up to the surface like corks. The way American wigeons sound like squeaky bathtub toys, and female mallards will let off volleys of quacks.
“There’s always something going on that’s interesting,” says Dominguez.
Why are ducks and other waterfowl here in great numbers? They are here for the winter to feed in ice-free waters and find mates. In the spring, they will fly to their breeding grounds. Some of them will just go inland, while others go farther. (The snow geese currently grazing on farmers’ fields in Skagit County go all the way to Wrangel Island on the Siberian arctic coast.) A few, such as mallards, Canada geese and gadwalls, raise their young here.
All Seattle birders have a favorite duck. Mine is the Harlequin Duck, which ranges on rocky shores. Dominguez likes the colorful wood duck, the drake of which combines green, blue, black white, and brown feathers with yellow feet and a bright red eye, and a red, black and white beak. (“It looks like they were painted with an artist’s fine paint brush,” Dominguez says.)
Hanae Bettencourt, Associate Education Manager of Seattle Audubon has two favorites.
“I think it’s a tie between the wood duck because they are so beautiful…I also really love the giant schnoz of a northern shoveler.”
While wood ducks are diving ducks, who swim underwater after their prey, northern shovelers are dabbling ducks. They stay on the surface. Some, such as mallards, bob downward with their tails up in pursuit of food. Northern Shovelers, put their heads down and comb tiny invertebrates out of the water more than 100 little projections on their beaks.
One note about watching ducks. Don’t feed them bread. It’s bad for them and pollutes the pond, Bettencourt says. If you must give them a snack, consider raiding the crisper drawer for some old lettuce or spinach.
“Stick to the veggies” says Bettencourt.
If your kids want to learn more about ducks, Seattle Audubon has a new activity book and field guide for kids, available free in PDF form, with details about 30 local species.
Great places to see ducks in Seattle include just about anywhere that there is standing water.
Fauntleroy Ferry Dock
Hicklin Lake in White Center
If you’re looking for more ideas on where to find birds, a good source is “Birds of Seattle,” by Chris Fisher