Waterfowl and Seabirds
Some thirty-five types of waterfowl have been recorded in the Atlantic Provinces. This figure includes one swan, six species of geese and twenty-eight species of ducks. Most of these are either rare or uncommon. The Canada goose and fifteen types of ducks comprise over 90 percent of the waterfowl kill.
The Canada Goose is a large bird usually weighing from 2.5 to 5.5 kg.
The common duck species can be broken into two broad groups, the freshwater or shelteredbay species and the true sea duck. The latter includes two species of eiders (shore ducks) and long-tailed ducks (hounds), all of which are diving ducks. They usually feed on various types of shellfish, especially blue mussels. Eiders are our largest ducks and several thousand are taken annually. Most of these breed in the Arctic.
Newfoundland once had many more breeding eiders than it does now, but they have suffered from overhunting and other disturbances including the taking of eggs from nesting sites. Areas such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine have been able to build their eider populations back up from similar low numbers through sound conservation practices and cooperation from hunters.
The twelve common freshwater and sheltered bay ducks include both diving and puddle ducks. Diving ducks use deep water where they dive for food, whereas puddle ducks prefer shallow water in which they can reach food on the bottom by “tipping up”.
The common puddlers are black duck, mallards and green-winged teal. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the pintail can be added to this list. All puddlers mainly eat plants, except the black duck, which may switch to shallow-water marine animals.
The nine remaining ducks, which are diving birds, can be broken into three groups according to food preferences. Ring-necked ducks, greater scaups and lesser scaups eat mostly plant food. The greater scaup usually switches to animal food in winter. Common goldeneye (pie birds, whistlers) and the three species of scoters, commonly called divers, eat insects and various other water animals. Finally, the common and red-breasted mergansers (shellbirds and gozzards) are fish eaters.
Oil exploration and development, certain fishery practices and human disturbance at breeding sites are looming threats to the conservation of seabirds. A new assessment of the situation should consider both the important traditional use of seabirds and the environmental problems they now face.
One of your most important skills as a waterfowl hunter is to be able to identify the many different species of waterfowl, especially threatened or endangered species.
Because there are so many kinds of ducks, there is a temptation to lump them all together as simply “ducks”. When you consider the seasonal changes in plumage, differences between sub-adults and adults, sex and countless other things, identifying waterfowl can be difficult even for seasoned hunters. Nonetheless, we have a moral and legal obligation to take only those waterfowl that we can identify properly. Our behaviour can influence the future of waterfowl populations.
It takes experience and practice to identify waterfowl well. Identification keys or field guides can be very helpful and are available at most bookstores and libraries.
There are three groups of ducks: 1) dabblers or puddle ducks that feed in shallow water and usually remain close to shore in inland water and coastal estuaries; 2) divers, that feed in deeper water by diving; and 3) sea ducks, that frequent our coastal areas and are rarely seen in inland waters, exceptduring the breeding season. Identifying individual species within these groups takes a little more practice, but it can be very rewarding.
Experienced waterfowl hunters can often identify species by their flight patterns. However, you can use the following characteristics to identify those which are not too distant. Use binoculars for making a positive identification, especially at longer distances.