Wild Georgia: Winter is the duckiest season of the year

Credit: Frank Vassen/Creative Commons

Credit: Frank Vassen/Creative Commons

Around this time of year, Georgia starts getting ducky. From now on and through fall, some 20 wild duck species will be migrating into Georgia for the winter.

Many of them will spend the entire season on Georgia’s rivers, lakes and wetlands; others will pass through the state, stopping only for brief stays while on their way to winter grounds farther south. The incoming ducks will join Georgia’s only two year-round duck species, wood ducks and feral (introduced or escaped from captivity) mallards. Truly wild mallards do not nest in Georgia.

In winter, I like to take day trips to some Georgia lakes, rivers and wetlands to see ducks. A favorite venue is the E.L. Huie ponds facility in Clayton County (access requires a permit).

The organization Ducks Unlimited says the populations of most duck species remain healthy, and there should be plenty of ducks this fall and winter. On a darker note, however, worrisome declines have been seen among wild mallards and American wigeons — possibly due to disease (avian influenza), habitat loss, adverse weather in breeding grounds and other factors.

Most of the ducks that migrate to Georgia breed during summer in the “Prairie Pothole” region of the upper Midwest and southern Canada or in the Boreal Forest region of middle and upper Canada. The Prairie Pothole region contains numerous small, isolated wetlands interspersed with grasslands and farmland.

Arriving now in Georgia are the teals — blue-winged and green-winged. Blue-winged teals migrate farther south than most other ducks, flying to Central and South America. Most of them will be stopping in Georgia only for a short while.

Coming in soon and staying mostly through winter will be hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, gadwalls, wigeons, shovelers, mallards, pintails, canvasbacks, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks and others. By early March, most of them will be returning to their breeding grounds.

Georgia’s most common wild duck all year long, though, is the wood duck, which is fortunate, because the male “woodie” is North America’s most beautiful duck.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter on Friday (Sept. 22). Mercury and Venus are low in the east just before sunrise. Saturn is in the southeast around sunset followed by Jupiter a few hours later.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.