Hey guys, welcome back! Water bird February continues with the Gadwall. Gadwall are found throughout the U.S. and breed primarily in the plains of central U.S. and Canada. Looking at their range map, you’ll notice that while the majority of Gadwall do migrate, they tend to do a more east-west migration than the stereotypical north-south one. Gadwall are year-round residents in only a small portion of their range.

Gadwall drake, Central Park, NY

Gadwall will often hangout in mixed duck flocks, and can be easily overlooked, as both male and female have a subdued gray and brown plumage, looking sort of like female mallards from a distance. However, a closer look at a drake Gadwall reveals a beautiful, intricate plumage pattern, with particularly sharp salmon-colored highlights on the wings. The most identifying field marks for Gadwall is their black rear end, and bright white speculum. Gadwall also usually have a steep forehead, and almost boxy shape to the head overall which gives them a unique silhouette compared to most other ducks, often aiding in identification. Size wise, Gadwall are about the same size as a Mallard, but they have a smaller more delicate looking bill. Gadwall quack, unlike the Wood Duck from the last post, though their quacks do sound slightly different from a Mallard, I’d probably describe it as more gruff.

Gadwall Juvenile
A juvenile Gadwall just molting into its adult plumage, Randall’s Island, NY

Gadwall are dabbling ducks. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the term in any previous posts. Basically, ducks can be divided into two groups; dabbling, and diving. Dabbling ducks don’t dive, but rather dunk their heads into the water to feed, and diving ducks, well, dive under water to feed. Gadwall typically like slightly deeper water than most other ducks, and like to nest on islands; a good strategy to reduce predation.

Gadwall Couple
Gadwall couple (drake in foreground), Central Park, NY

Though I have yet to see a Gadwall here in St. Louis, they were quite common in New York City, particularly Central Park. They’re a good duck for birders that are starting to branch out into more difficult ducks, sort of a level 3 duck haha. They are good practice for finding identifying field marks, and learning where and what to look for. In my time in NY, I only ever saw one breeding pair of Gadwall, with ducklings, on Randall’s Island. I was wondering why I never saw more breeding Gadwall, as I would see them quite often, but looking at the range map, it appears NYC is actually in their non-breeding area. Proof that not all individuals of a species always stick to “their range.” Gadwall, I think, are an underrated duck. They may not have a bright green head, a crest, or lots of iridescent feathers, but they’re plumage pattern is really quite beautiful in its own right. Next time, our first diving duck, the Red-breasted Merganser! See you all then!

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