Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Las Aventuras: Arizona Waterfowl

Greetings everyone! With fall migration upon us and wintering birds arriving,  I'll be writing a series of posts on Arizona birds. I'll discuss the common or rare occurrences of these birds in the state of Arizona. So if you come to Arizona, what should you expect to find as a birder?  Part one of this blog series focuses the AZ waterfowl. 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.  While not a super rare duck for the lower half of the US, one needs to be in the right areas to find them.  In Texas, they are everywhere. But if you're in Arizona, where and when can you expect to find them?  They are really common during our summer months here in Southern Arizona during monsoon season.  In places like Rio Rico or Amado, you'll often find them with little babies.  Phoenix has a small population that lives there year round.  During our winter months, they are difficult to find as they do slightly migrate south into Mexico.  On occasion, I have seen a group in February or March when they are considered "rare" for the state. This is often a duck birders search for here in Arizona.  

My first record of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks in Costa Rica
Several ducks I always keep my eyes open for during our migration and winter months are the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Baikal Teal, Garganey, Harlequin Duck and Tufted Ducks. These are considered EXCELLENT birds and the gems of the AZ birding community. This year, the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were seen in the city of Glendale at a Recharge Pond.  

A Long-tailed Duck shows up at the Glendale Recharge Pond in Phoenix and stays for quite awhile!
Speaking of rare AZ appearances, the Long-tailed Duck.   This duck is very common in Wisconsin. I'm so used to finding them in icy waters along our Lake Michigan piers.  So for one to appear in Arizona?!? Yes, it does rarely happen. This is one of my favorite ducks to observe in the wild.  During the months of December and January, AZ listers should keep an eye out for this bird.  Long-tailed Ducks are NOT common at all here but a few do stop and recharge for a day or more around the lakes and recharge ponds.  With this Long-tailed Duck, he stayed for about a month!

Green-winged Teal
So what waterfowl can you easily expect to observe in Arizona? During the winter months, birders find lots of wonderful ducks!  And the ducks aren't afraid of you either.  Back in Wisconsin, they tend to stay far away thanks in part to hunting.  They know that people will shoot them.  Here in lovely Arizona, many of the ducks find a safe refuge at our local parks and golf courses. I remember one time a birder told me how shocked she was to have Canvasback come right up to her!   

Anyhow, Canvasback, Redheads, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Green and Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintail(they still tend to be shy), Cinnamon Teal(this is one people look for here), and Ruddy Ducks are all pretty common.

So what's MORE difficult to find?  To step up your game, you'll have to have patience. You'll comb through the endless American Wigeons and regular ducks to find those "less common" birds.  Take for example this Wood Duck.  They can be tricky, but they are present if you know where to look. 

Wood Duck
However, if you see a Mandarin Duck, don't get too excited. OR DO GET EXCITED!  If you play the ABA game, they don't count here in Arizona.  They are pretty though.  Every single time one pops up, I have to listen to ABA birders talk about how they are escapees from the Phoenix zoo with a small breeding population.  Ok ok, I get it ABA peeps, this duck isn't worth your time.  It's still a bird and it's still worthy of a pic:)

Mandarin Duck
Other ducks NOT countable if you play the ABA game?  Muscovy Ducks.  They are also considered escapees from somewhere.  Apparently people love to eat them.  If you want your Muscovy to count, you'll have to go to Florida to add them to your ABA list. My true experiences with Muscovy Ducks are that they are EXTREMELY shy in the wild.  

Domestic Muscovy Ducks and Muscovy Hybrids are seen occasionally in Arizona
The Scaups.  During our winter months, we have both Lesser and Greater Scaups.  I know both these birds well.  I think my spirit bird is the Greater Scaup.  I found one this year in Tucson for the birder club.  Lesser Scaups are very common here during our winter but Greater Scaups are NOT AS COMMON.  But that's what makes them fun.  With a little patience and confidence, a birder may find one hanging out with the Lessers.  They are considered "rare" here but I would say they aren't as uncommon as many think.  Look for the wide nail on the bill, the rounder head and the wider white area around the bill to help with the ID.  The Greater, as suggested in the name, is also larger than a Lesser Scaup. 

A female Greater Scaup
The Mergansers. There are three species and they all winter here.  The Common Mergansers are common here.  The Hooded Mergansers are fairly common in the right areas.  The rarest merg is the Red-breasted Merganser.  However, they regularly show up every year in the state in deeper waters.  Sometimes they do make a quick and rare appearance at our local watering holes.

Hooded Merganser
The Scoters. Yep. We get all three scoters here.  I was shocked as well.  They also can show up during our winter months and are what I would consider rare.  A birder must check the deepest lakes, many times with a scope, to see these birds. During a winter storm, a Black Scoter was blown into the Tucson area.  A year later, I saw my first Surf and White-winged Scoters up in the Phoenix area. They ARE rare and usually are found in December.  

White-winged Scoter
The Goldeneyes.  Both are fairly common in the right habitat.  They are both regular to the state and can reliably be found in certain areas.  The Common Goldeneye can be quite common.  The Barrow's Goldeneye requires a little patience because they look similar to a Common Goldeneye. SO read up on your field marks!  Generally it is found up in the Lake Havasu area where the bird will winter. 

Common Goldeneye

Wigeons.  And finally, let's talk about our wigeon crew.  American Wigeons flock to Arizona in the THOUSANDS during the winter months. A few do stay during our summer months.  American Wigeons are easily found around our area but it's the Eurasian Wigeon that everyone hopes to spy.  Over the past several years, a Phoenix park and a lake in Willcox have been home to several Eurasian Wigeons.  They can be a regular "rarity" among the thousands of American Wigeons.  The trick here is having a little patience and picking one out from the crowd:)

American and Eurasian Wigeon side by side
Winter birding is fun and relatively easy.  It's made better with a scope and a cup of coffee.  There are MANY more birds that are found alongside our AZ duck crowd and I'll cover those in the next several blog posts.  Our next feature will be geese and swans. As we get into different bird groups, things will get more interesting as theories begin to develop for certain birds.  Until next time....


  1. Thank you for that interesting writing. Hooded merganser, mandarin ducks and wood ducks look so beautiful.

  2. Super selection of birds Chris - so interesting to read of what you see over in Arizona and compare to what we have here. Your common species would be our rarities and vice versa :)

    Love the last "arty" photo :)

    1. Thank you. It's amazing that these birds are world wide. Actually it's impressive!

  3. Wonderful! You remind me of one of my photography teacher who forbade us, girls, to bring any pictures of ducks in class. (and forbade boys to bring any pictures of guitars...) He would have been amazed with your collection.

  4. LOL!!!! He must have had a bad experience playing a guitar at a park. Probably planned on proposing to someone and was rejected:)


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