Ducks Detecting Daylength
ducks are starting their journey north. Except when landing, they flap
their wings continually as they fly. Nonstop flapping takes a lot of energy,
so these birds must pause along the migration route to rest and feed.
Throughout the continent, birders are reporting the new arrivals. Be one
of those birders!
- How many
different species can you find?
- How many
are alone, how many in pairs, how many in small groups, and how many
- Are all
the ducks in the water? Can you find any ducks in other places?
all ducks are in their adult plumage now, so use plumage as a clue to
help you count males and females.
you see the birds, notice their movement behaviors and patterns. For
example, what movements do they make when they feed? Flock? Fly?
spent their winter in North America. Their migratory restlessness seems
to develop as a combination of opening water and increasing daylength.
It can be tricky for us to figure out which individual ducks arrived from
farther south and which were nearby all winter, but we CAN watch one sure
sign of spring. At the same time that they're migrating, drakes (male
ducks) that don't already have a mate are trying to attract one. It's
fun watching drakes try to get the attention of hens. Some use bright
feathers and noisy quacks to impress females, but one, the Common Goldeneye,
has a spectacular mating display. Here's a description of the courtship
written by Dr. Charles W. Townsend in 1910:
or more males swim restlessly back and forth and around a female. The
feathers of the cheeks and crest of the male are so erected that the
head looks large and round, the neck correspondingly small. As he swims
along, the duck's head is thrust out in front close to the water, occasionally
dabbling at it. Suddenly he springs forward, elevating his breast, and
at the same time he enters on the most typical and essential part of
the performance. The neck is stretched straight up, and the bill, pointing
to the zenith, is opened to emit a harsh, rasping double note, "zzee-at"?
The head is then quickly snapped back until the occiput (back of the
head) touches the rump, whence it is brought forward again with a jerk
to the normal position. As the head is returned to its place the bird
often springs forward kicking the water in a spurt out behind, and displaying
like a flash of flame the orange-colored legs."
move like this duck? Maybe not...but you CAN move like some ducks and
other migratory birds. Read on to hear about the fun some students are
having as they track duck and geese migration with professional dancers
Like the Birds!
Join Students in an Online Navigational Dance Project
In spring 2004, Bird Brain Dance Company will follow
the migration route of ducks and geese. Lucky students in partner schools
along the route will work with the company's professional dancers as the
dancers travel the migration route. They start in Corpus Christi on March
10 and end in Canada's Whiteshell Province State Park in May. The participating
classrooms along the route will post data and share writing, videos, photos,
artwork and observations as they learn about bird navigation and physiology
during the project. At the same time, the students will learn more about
their own navigational skills. YOU CAN JOIN THEM on the Bird
Brain Website! In the meantime, have a go at some fun activities the
students will do during the project:
with moving your body to show different types of flight patterns. Use
your arms and body to show the effects of flapping, gliding, bounding,
and soaring. Make spirals in space and spirals in your body, then try
doing a spiraling/soaring dance.
three different moves you have observed in one bird. Try them out. Make
them larger or smaller. Make up a solo dance by repeating the movements
you see in the birds and arranging them in different sequences of movement
- Try moving
the phrases through space and interacting with other classmate's phrases.
a "bird movement" dance by deciding who moves where and when—based
on what you see the birds do. Enjoy each other's works!
activities used with permission of Jennifer Monson, Bird
Brain Dance. Thank you!
This! Journaling Questions
- When nesting
begins, duck counts change. Name at least two different reasons why
we usually count more male than female ducks in spring.
- To have
a stable population, ducks must raise many more eggs (up to 12) than,
say, loons. Why do you think this is true? After you write your thoughts,
compare them with ours.
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