Wild ducks belong to the same family as swans and geese, the family Anatidae. However, different species of ducks have little in common. Some wild ducks stay in one place year round, while others migrate long distances, for example from Canada to Venezuela. Some migrating ducks return year after year to the same spot, while others improvise. Some form long-lasting monogamous couples, while others change partners every year. All wild ducks, however, need habitat that includes wetlands.
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Most wild ducks breed near wetlands; all breed near water. Dabbling ducks usually breed and build nests along wetland edges. Ruddy ducks and canvasbacks nest in the aquatic vegetation in potholes. Mergansers, goldeneyes and wood ducks nest in wooded areas near lakes, rivers or other water sources. American black ducks nest on the ground, although occasionally they may nest in tree cavities.
Adult ducks eat plants, largely those available in wetlands such as seeds, aquatic grasses and pond weeds. Young ducks, on the other hand, are largely carnivorous. Their early diet consists of insects, invertebrates and small fish, but at about six weeks, they begin switching to plants. Many female ducks switch back to a diet of invertebrates just prior to breeding.
Colour of Plumage
The difference between colouration of male and female wild ducks is often striking. The males sport bright, flashy plumage while the females are drab brown or grey. Males' striking colours help them attract a mate, while females' primary concern is keeping their young safe from the eyes of predators. Young ducks' colouration is similar to the females': dark and dull.
Since young ducks require water invertebrates, tree-nesting ducks need to find habitat that supplies both trees for nesting and shallow water with protective cover for their young. They prefer a ratio of 50 to 75 per cent protective cover to 25 to 50 per cent open water. Shrubs or trees overhanging the water provide good cover, as does flooded woody vegetation.
Most wild-duck populations find adequate habitat and are thriving, but concerns remain. Since tree-nesting ducks need trees with holes or cavities--that is, mature trees--near shallow water, their future depends upon management of old-growth timber along waterways. Wild ducks listed as endangered species include the spectacled eider and Steller's eider.
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