Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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and enforce protective laws, many species of ducks that breed prin-
cipally within our limits will soon be exterminated.




142. Spatula clypeata (Linn.). SHOVELLER : SPOONBILL.

Bill long, much widened toward end ; the long, fine comb-like teeth
conspicuous along side of closed bill. Adult male : head and neck black,
glossed on sides and back with green ; wing coverts light blue with a white
bar ; scapulars streaked with blue, white, and black ; speculum green ;
chest white, belly chestnut ; bill black, feet orange. Adult female : plum-
age mainly spotted and streaked with dusky and brown ; wing as in the
male, but duller. Young: in general like adult female. Length: 17-21,
wing 9-10, bill 2.60-2.90, width of bill at base .60, near end 1.10-1.20.

Distribution. Northern hemisphere, breeding in North America from
Texas to Hudson Bay and Alaska.

Nest. On ground in dry grass or under bushes, made of grass or
weeds, lined with feathers. Eggs : 9 to 14, olive greenish to buffy.

The shoveller is especially common over the plains and valleys of
the western part of the continent, breeding from Texas to northern
Alaska in the open country where there are shallow ponds and
sloughs. They are usually found in pairs or small flocks, sitting on
the bank or puddling in the shallow water close to shore, skimming
flies and larvae from the surface with their spoon-like bills, or with
head and neck under water, sifting seeds, mollusks, and crustaceans
from the muddy bottom. They rarely become fat, and while fairly
good eating are astonishingly thin and light for their apparent size.



143. Daflla acuta (Linn.). PINTAIL.

A large duck, with long neck and long, sharp tail of 16 feathers ; head
not crested. Adult male : sides of head snuff brown, with a purple gloss ;

Fig. 70.

crown darker, back of neck blackish, a white stripe down side of neck ;
throat and under parts white ; sides and upper parts gray crossed by wavy
lines ; wing slaty, with purple speculum bordered above by a line of buff,
and below by white ; tertials with broad stripes of velvety black and
white ; under tail coverts black. Adult female : gray, with head and neck
finely specked, and under parts, including under surface of wing, finely
mottled with dusky ; back and wings more heavily mottled with black,
brown, and buffy ; wing without speculum, but greater coverts tipped
with white. Male: length 26-30, wing 10.25-11.20, bill 1.85-2.15, tail
7.25-9.50. Female: smaller, length 21.00-23.50, wing 9.60-10.10, bill
1.80, taU 4.50-5.00.



Distribution. Northern hemisphere, breeding from Arizona, Missouri,
and Illinois northward ; migrating to Cuba and Panama.

Nest. On the ground, in a well concealed depression ; lined with grass
and feathers. Eggs : 7 to 10, pale greenish to olive buff.

The pintail is a common and widely distributed species, breeding
from southern California, Arizona, and Iowa north to Point Barrow.
In Kansas, Goss says, it haunts the wet prairies, muddy flats, and
edges of reedy, grassy waters, feeding largely on bulbous roots,
tender shoots, insects and their larvae, worms, snails, and, in the fall,
various seeds of water plants, grain, and acorns. At Point Reyes,
California, large flocks of the pintails were seen by J. A. Loring
lying out in the bay waiting for the tide to come in. As soon as it
covered the salt grass flats they would follow it in and go to feeding.


144. Aix sponsa (Linn.). WOOD DUCK.

Bill narrow, higher than wide at base. Both sexes with drooping crests.
Adult male: bill marked
with black, white, red, and
yellow ; head and crest
brilliant purple and green,
with white stripes ; throat
white ; chest rich chestnut,
with rows of white trian-
gles; sides gray, with black
and white bars and cres-
cents ; shoulder crossed by
black and white bars ; rest
of upper parts black, varied
with rich iridescent colors.
Adult female : head dull
grayish, glossed with green
on crest and crown ; sides
of head and throat white ;
chest brown, belly white ;
back richly glossed grayish
brown. Male .-length 19.00-
20.50, wing 9.00-9.50, bill
1.40. Female smaller.

Distribution. Temperate North America, from southern Canada south-

Nest. Usually 30 to 40 feet from the ground in the natural cavity of a
tree trunk, lined with down. Eggs : usually 8 to 14, creamy white.

If the end of a rainbow had touched a marsh and dabbled its colors
over a plain brown duck, it could never have produced anything half
so brilliant as one of these old male wood ducks in full breeding
plumage. No wonder the handsome fellows are shy and deem it
prudent to keep hidden in crooked forest creeks or ponds surrounded
by tall grass, brush, and trees ! A mossy log in a pond is a favorite



resting place for the ducks, but as you walk through the woods in
spring a pair will often fly from a branch overhead, uttering their
shrill, plaintive cry as they dart through the trees.

The nest is sometimes placed in the old excavation of a pileated
woodpecker, but usually in a natural cavity. A mass of gray down
from the mother's breast generally protects the eggs. The parents
are said to carry the young in their bills from the nest to the nearest
water, but in some cases, whether accidentally or not, the young
tumble to the ground. In autumn the families gather into large
flocks to fatten on wild rice and acorns. When fat the flesh is
scarcely excelled by that of any duck. They are becoming scarce,
and unless protected will before long be a bird of the past.


General Characters. Head not crested, but short, thick, and rounded ;
tail short and rigid ; wing with white or bluish speculum.


1. Head and neck bright brown.

2. Crown dusky vallisneria, p. 57.

2'. Crown reddish brown americana, p. 56.

1'. Head and neck greenish or purplish black.

2. Head glossed with green marila, p. 57.

2'. Head glossed with purple.

3. Neck without chestnut collar affinis, p. 58.

o'. Neck with dark chestnut collar collaris, p. 59.

146. Aythya americana (Eyt.). REDHEAD.

Bill little more than twice as long as wide. Adult male : whole head

and neck bright reddish
chestnut ; shoulders and
chest black ; belly white ;
sides and back uniform
gray, with fine lines of black
and ashy ; tail and feathers
around base black. Adult
female : plumage dull gray-
ish brown except for whit-
ish chin, throat, and belly.
Length : 17-21, wing 8.50-
9.25, bill 2.05-2.25, width
of bill .75-.8o.

Distribution. Nearly the
whole of North America,
breeding from California,
Missouri, and Maine, north-
ward. Not reported from
Fig. 72. Alaska.

Nest. On marshy or

grassy ground near water, loosely constructed of grass and weeds, and lined
with down. Eggs : 1 to 10, grayish white or pale olive.


The redhead is so similar to the canvas-back as to be easily mis-
taken for it at a little distance, and in habits the resemblance is
equally close. Goss says that this deep water duck, though widely
distributed, is not so common on the Pacific slope as east of the
Rocky Mountains. It is usually found in flocks on the open water
associated with canvas-backs, and diving with them for its food,
which consists of various kinds of submarine and fresh water plants,
small mollusks, crustaceans, fish, frogs, and water newts.

147. Aythya vallisneria ( Wils.}. CANVAS-BACK.

Bill three times as long as wide. Adult male: head and neck rich

chestnut brown, becoming-
dusky on crown and face ;
shoulders and chest black ;
sides and back light gray ;
belly white or grayish ; tail
and quills dark gray ; feath-
ers around base of tail black.
Adult female: plumage
mainly umber brown, becom-
ing whitish around face and
chin. Length: 20.00-23.50,
wing 8.75-9.25, bill 2.10-2.50.
Distribution. Whole of
North America, breeding in
Colorado,Nevada, Minnesota,
and northward to Fort An-
derson and Fort Yukon.

Nest. Usually in reeds,
grass, or rushes, in shallow
water, a bulky mass of grass
stems lined with down. Eggs:
7 to 8, pale olive green.

Fig - 73 - In its breeding range the

canvas-back is largely a bird of the northern interior, while in winter
it is found mainly in the bays and estuaries of the southern coasts,
where it is attracted by its favorite food, the stems and bulbs of wild
celery or eel grass, Vallisneria. While feeding on this plant the
canvas-backs become fat and so delicately flavored as to outrank all
other ducks in quality and market price. Hunted wherever they
go, they have learned that existence depends on eternal vigilance,
and so keep out in open water as far from shore as their feeding
grounds will allow. VERNON BAILEY.

Subgenus Fuligula.

148. Aythya marila (Linn.). SCAUP DUCK: BLUE-BILL.

Bill short and wide, bluish with black tip. Male in breeding plumage :
head black, glossed with green ; shoulders, rump, and chest black ; belly
white, margined along sides with light grayish; crissum black. Post-


breeding plumage : similar to female
but darker brown. Adult female: head,
neck, chest, and sides brownish ; re-
gion around base of bill, and belly,
whitish. Length: 18-20, wing about
8.50, bill 2.03.

Distribution. Most of the northern
hemisphere ; in North America breed-
ing mainly north of the United States ;
south in winter to Guatemala and the
West Indies.

Nest. Usually in a marsh, or a de-
pression in grassy ground near water,
lined with down. Eggs : 9 to 12, pale
olive gray.

The scaup duck, or blue-bill, is not
so generally common in the United

Fig. 74. Scaup Duck. g tates ag the lesser scaup) which

has essentially the same habits and is sometimes mistaken for it.
Flocks of both are found associated in the rice lakes, where the
report of a gun will sometimes start thousands into the air with the
roar of an avalanche. The two species are generally indistinguish-
able on the wing, and together often form the bulk of the ducks
seen during the early spring or late fall migration.


149. Aythya affinis (Eyt.). LESSER SCAUP DUCK.

Like A. marila, but smaller, with black of head glossed with purple
instead of green, and sides more heavily lined with gray. Length : 15.00-
16.50, wing 7.50-8.25, bill 1.58-1.90, width of bill .80-.95.

Distribution. North America, south in winter to Guatemala, breed-
ing mainly north of the United States.

Nest. Similar to that of marila. Eggs : 7 to 9, pale olive gray.

The lesser scaup, or little blue-bill, is abundant during migrations
over most of the United States, wintering from Okanagan and Lake
Chelan south to Guatemala, and in spring following north close to
the edge of the retreating ice, to breed mainly north of the United

Like all of the genus, the lesser scaups are great divers and keep
much in the open lakes, often in large flocks, where they dive for
food, or sleep and rest on the water in comparative safety. They
cannot resist the temptation of the rice lakes, however, and swarm
into them by thousands to fatten on the delicious grain, which they
glean from the mud bottoms after it has been threshed out by the
wind and the wings of myriads of coots and rails. While they eat,
the hunters lie hidden in the tall rice and on the ridges which they
must pass in going from lake to lake, and in spite of their bullet-like
flight the sadly thinned flocks show the penalty they have paid for
leaving the open water. VERNON BAILEY.


150. Aythya COllaris (Donov.). RLNG-NECKED DUCK.

Bill narrower than in A. marila, black, crossed by blue band near end.
Adult male : head, except small white triangle on chin, black, glossed
with rich purple ; neck encircled by narrow chestnut collar ; chest and
back black, back glossed with greenish ; wings blackish, with blue gray
speculum ; middle of belly buffy white ; sides finely vermiculated gray ;
crissum black. Adult female : throat and face whitish, rest of head, neck,
and upper parts dull brown ; wing with blue gray speculum as in male ;
chest and sides fulvous, belly white. Length: 15.50-18.00, wing 8.00,
bill 1.75-2.00.

Distribution. North America, south in winter to Guatemala, breeding
from Minnesota and North Dakota northward.

Nest and eggs as in affinis.

In habits, as well as in general appearance, the ring-neck is very
similar to the lesser scaup, but on the water may often be distin-
guished by a white patch on the side, at bend of wing.


General Characters. Bill short, high at base and narrowed toward end ;
head with wide, high crest ; males with head green and large white spot
at base of bill ; females with head and crest plain brownish.


1. White patch on cheek, circular americana, p. 59.

1'. White patch on cheek, triangular islandica, p. 60.


1. Head light snuff brown americana, p. 59.

1'. Head dark umber brown islandica, p. 60.

151. Clangula clangula americana (Bonap.). AMERICAN


Adult male. Head and crest rich dark green, a round white patch at
base of bill ; neck and under parts
white ; back black, shoulders white ;
wing with white central patch and
white stripes on scapulars. Adult
female : head and upper neck light
snuff brown, neck with wide white
or gray collar ; belly white ; chest,
sides, and shoulders gray ; wing
dusky, with white on coverts and
secondaries, the white greater cov-
erts not tipped with dusky. Nail of
bill not over .20 wide. Young male :
like female, but sometimes with a
suggestion of the white patch at
base of bill, and less gray on chest.
Male : length 18.50-23.00, wing 9.18,
bill 1.95. Female: 16.50, wing 8.14,
bill 1.64.

Distribution. North America, breeding in the northern United States
and northward ; south in winter to Cuba and Mexico.



Nest. Usually in a hollow tree, sometimes in a log or stump, lined with
down. Eggs : usually 9 to 12, light greenish.

Although ranging practically over the whole of North America
the golden-eyes are rarely common. They are generally found in
small flocks on large lakes or rivers, where they dive for fresh
water weeds, mussels, and crustaceans. Their strong rapid flight
is accompanied by a loud whistling of the wings, which gives them
the common name of whistler. VERNON BAILEY.

152. Clangula islandica (Gmel.). BARROW GOLDEN-EYE.
Similar to americana, but male with glossy blue black head, and tri-
angular or crescent-shaped spot at base of bill; female with head and
neck dark umber brown, white collar narrower, and white greater wing
coverts tipped with dusky ; nail of bill over .23 wide. Male : length 21-
23, wing 9.17, bill 1.75. "Female : wing 8.46, bill 1.56.

Remarks. In many of the females the characters do not hold, and it
is difficult even with specimens of both species to name them all.

Distribution. Northern North America, breeding from mountains of
Oregon, Colorado, and Gulf of St. Lawrence northward to Alaska and Green-
land ; south in winter to Illinois, Nebraska, Utah, and San Francisco Bay.

Nest. In hollow trees.

The Barrow golden-eye, though less common and less widely dis-
tributed in migration, breeds farther south than its near relative the
American golden-eye, nesting in the crater basin of Paulina Lake,
Oregon, and about many of the wild mountain lakes of the Rockies
as far south as Colorado. In winter it is able to remain as far north
as Minnesota or the Great Lakes by keeping in water that is too
deep or rapid to freeze. VERNON BAILEY.


153. Charitonetta albeola (Linn.). BDFFLE-HEAD.

A plump little duck with short, pointed bill and round, crested head.

Adult male : head, except
white patch, rich iridescent
purple, violet, and green ;
back and part of wings
black ; rump and tail gray ;
rest of plumage white. Adult
female : mainly grayish or
dusky, with a large white spot
on ear coverts and white patch
on middle of wing ; belly
white. Male : length 14.25-
15.25, wing 6.75-6.90, bill
1.10-1.15. Female : smaller.
Distribution. North
America, south in winter to
Mexico ; breeds from Maine,
Iowa, and British Columbia
Fig. 76. north to Alaska.



Nest. In hollow tree or hole in bank. Eggs : 9 to 14, grayish buff,
unusually rounded, for a duck.

During migration the buffie-head is common and often abundant
over most of the western United States. It is a conspicuous little
duck, and the male is easily recognized by its small size, white sides,
and breast. The flocks generally keep out in the open water of
lakes and rivers, where they dive for their food, but are sometimes
surprised in small ponds or creeks in the shelter of grassy banks.
In fall they often remain till the last hole in the ice is closed up,
and in spring are back again close to the retreating ice.



154. Harelda hyemalis (Linn.). OLD-SQUAW.

A trim little duck with short bill; male with long 1 slender tail; head
not crested. Adult male in winter : head and fore parts to shoulders and
breast white, except for
patches of ashy and dusky
on side of head ; back,
middle tail feathers, and
breast black ; belly white
posteriorly, shading into
pearl gray on sides. Adult
male in summer: sooty, ex-
cept for white belly, ash
gray face, and white eye-
lids ; back and scapulars
streaked with chestnut.
Adult female in winter : tail
not lengthened ; head,
neck, and under parts
mainly white ; chest gray-
ish ; crown dusky, rest of upper parts dusky brown, the scapulars bor-
dered with lighter brown. Adult female in summer: head and neck
grayish brown, with whitish spaces around eye and on side of neck.
Young : similar to female in summer. Male : length 20.7523.00, wing
8.50-9.00, middle tail feathers 8.00-8.50, bill 1.10. Female: length 15-16,
wing 8-9, tail 8.

Distribution. Northern part of northern hemisphere ; south in winter
nearly across the United States ; breeding from Labrador to Alaska.

Nest. Usually on the grassy bank of a pond or stream, made of grass
and lined with down. Eggs : 5 to 9.

The old-squaw, or long-tailed duck, is mainly a bird of the arctic
coasts, migrating sometimes entirely across the United States.

Fig. 77.


155. Histrionicus histrionicus (Linn.). HARLEQUIN DUCK.
A small duck with moderate crest, short bill, and long sharp tail.


Adult male in winter and spring:
head and neck bluish hlack, with
white patches ; collar white ; shoul-
der bar black and white ; middle of
crown black, bordered behind by
chestnut ; chest and shoulders dark
plumbeous ; belly sooty, sides bright
rufous ; wing with steel blue specu-
lum and four white spots ; rump
black, with white spot on each side.
Adult male in summer : colors much
duller than in winter. Adult female :
head, neck, and upper parts sooty,
with a white spot on ear coverts and
a large white patch on side of face ;
belly mottled grayish. Length: 15.00-
17.50, wing 7.40-8.00, bill 1.05-1.10.
Distribution. Eastern Asia,
Greenland, Iceland, and northern
North America ; south to the middle
states in winter ; breeding from New-
foundland and the mountains of Col-
Fig. 78. Harlequin Duck. orado and California northward to

the arctic coast.

Nest. In hollow tree or stump or under rocks or driftwood. Eggs : 6
to 8.

The harlequin duck is rare enough in the United States to excite
keen interest, especially when found on its breeding grounds. A
little flock of the richly barred and spotted beauties fishing in a
foaming mountain stream, diving, bobbing on the rough surface,
drifting or darting down over the rapids, and then gathering in a
bunch below to fly back up stream for another descent, suggests a
lot of schoolboys on a coasting party rather than a flock of birds
engaged in the serious business of getting breakfast. They seem
to enjoy the icy water and their power to dare and buffet its tor-
rents. Although breeding more or less commonly in the mountains
from Colorado and California northward, little is known of their
nesting habits. Nests are reported in the far north under shelter of
rocks and driftwood. VERNON BAILEY.


General Characters. Bill with base much swollen (except in female
americana), partly orange in males, black in females ; colors mainly black
or dusky.


1. Feathering of head stopping far short of nostrils . americana, p. 63.
1'. Feathering of head not stopping far short of nostrils.

2. Lores not feathered as far forward as forehead.

perspicillata, p. 63.

2 . Lores feathered as far forward as forehead . . deglandi, p. 63.


Subgenus Oidemia.
163. Oidemia americana Swains. AMERICAN SCOTER.

Plumage dark without white markings ; eyes always brown. Adult
male : bill swollen back of nostrils, with a large yellow and red spot at
base, including nostrils ; plumage black or sooty. Adult female : bill
black, with a trace of yellow at base in breeding plumage, not swollen at
base ; upper parts dusky brown, under parts grayish brown. Young :
like female but lighter and indistinctly barred below. Length : 17.00-21.50,
wing 8.75-9.50, bill 1.65-1.80.

Distribution. Northern part of North America, breeding in Labrador,
Hudson Bay region, and Alaska ; south in winter to New Jersey, Illinois,
Colorado, and southern California.

Nest. In grass or willows near water.

The American scoter is a duck of the northern seacoaats, mi-
grating but sparingly into the United States.

Subgenus Melanitta.

165. Oidemia deglandi Bonap. WHITE-WINGED SCOTER.

Bill swollen at base over nostrils and on sides ; tip orange in male ;
feathers of lores coming close
to nostrils, as far forward as
those of forehead. Adult male :
eyes white; plumage black or
sooty, with white eye patch and
wing speculum. Adult female :
eyes brown ; plumage sooty
gray, darker above ; wing
speculum white. Length : 19.75
23.00, wing 10.65-11.40, bill
1.40-1.70. F . 79

Distribution. Northern
North America, breeding in North Dakota but mainly north of the United
States ; south in winter to Chesapeake Bay, Colorado, and Lower Cali-

Nest. A depression in the ground lined with grass, twigs, moss, and
down ; usually concealed among dwarf willows, rosebushes, or spruces.
Eggs : 5 to 8, deep buff.

The white-winged scoter is more or less common along the Pacific
coast, but rare inland in the United States.

Subgenus Pelionetta.

166. Oidemia perspicillata (Linn.). SURF SCOTER.

Bill with swollen sides of base naked ; feathers of forehead reaching
to near nostril, of lores only to corner of mouth ; bill black and less
swollen in female ; red, orange, yellow, and white in male, with large
black spot on side of base. Adult male : entire plumage velvety black
except for triangular white patch on forehead and another on back of
head ; eyes white. Adult female : upper parts sooty brown, under parts
silver gray, usually with white patch at corner of mouth. Young : like
female, but with whitish patches at base of bill and back of ear. Male ;
length 20-22, wing 9.25-9.75, bill 1.30-1.60. Female: smaller.


Distribution. North America, breeding from Sitka and the Gulf of
St. Lawrence north to the arctic regions ; south in winter to Florida,
Colorado, and Lower California.

Nest . In a bunch of marsh grass, on ground in tall grass, or under
low branches of scrubby trees ; made of plant stems and lined with down.
Eggs : 5 to 8, cream color.

The surf scoters are abundant on both coasts, and during the
breeding season quite common on the large northern inland waters.

Colonel Goss in describing their habits says that they are "at
home as well in the surging surf as upon the smooth waters, resting
and sleeping at night out on the open waters. ... They rise in a
running, laborious manner, but when fairly on the wing fly rapidly,
and in stormy weather hug closely to the water." The ducks are
very active when feeding, diving so constantly and rapidly one after
another that they are continually disappearing and popping up.
The bivalve is a favorite food with them, Colonel Goss says, its
shell apparently digesting with as much ease as its contents. As
they also eat fish, their flesh is coarse and rather rank.


167. Erismatura jamaicensis (GmeL). RUDDY DUCK.

Bill short and widest near end, bright blue in adult male. Adult male. :

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 10 of 65)