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April 12, 2018 - Five Dapper Drakes

Due to the number of great submissions for this week's blog, we have chosen to narrow our focus and feature only the males. Look forward to future opportunities to show off your hens and ducklings!

Drake and Hen Common Mergansers photographed by WIlliam Them in Wysox, PA

Most duck species are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female differ in outward appearance. At the onset of courtship and mating season the male, known as the drake, typically develops a beautiful set of feathers to attract a hen. During the summer months, after breeding, he will lose his breeding feathers and molt into what is known as eclipse plumage. This image of a drake and hen Common Merganser, submitted by William Them, provides a great illustration of dimorphism.

Another interesting difference between drakes and hens is their call. Not only do most duck species not quack, that raucous call is reserved only for the hens and only a handful of species, including Mallards. Most species make softer sounds, including whistles, coos and grunts. And the males are less vocal than the females. Because the pair bond typically dissolves before the eggs hatch, the female is solely responsible for raising her precocial young. This responsibility requires much more vocalization than is necessary for the drake.

This week's five drakes are all dressed to impress in their beautiful, nuptial plumage.

1. Mallard

In full nuptial plumage, the ubiquitous Mallard drake is stunning with his iridescent head showing colors ranging between emerald green, blue and purple. These dabbling ducks can be found throughout the year in most of the US.

Low Key Mallards photographed by Beth Stewart

In this image of two drake Mallards, Beth Stewart demonstrates a low key photography technique. This method works beautifully when only the subject is sunlit against a shaded background. When properly exposed, the background will melt away into darkness, as it does in this photo. In dappled lighting this exposure can produce even more dramatic results, known as a chiaroscuro effect.

2. Wood Duck

Henry David Thoreau writes about the drake Wood Duck, "What an ornament to a river to see that glowing gem floating in contact with its waters!" The drake Wood Duck in his full nuptial plumage is arguably the most celebrated and beautiful duck in North America.

The ornamental drake Wood Duck photographed by Gina Vaughan

During the late summer months, many bird species with two plumage cycles will molt into their winter, more drab, feathers. Wood Ducks only retain this eclipse plumage for a short time. For that brief period they closely resemble the hen. A great indicator of an eclipse male is that vivid red eye, the orange and white bill and the white saddle marking on his head which he retains throughout the year. By late summer he will molt back into his nuptial feathers, as in this image photographed by Gina Vaughan.

3. Common Merganser

Found throughout the year in the very northern states of the US, these diving ducks live up to their name as Common Mergansers in the upper half of the US. During the summer months many migrate to Canada for breeding.

Common Mergansers photographed by Melissa Penta

From a distance, these large divers are easily mistaken for Mallards with their green heads and white bodies. However, you'll know quickly they are not those widespread dabblers when they disappear under water for up to two minutes at a time. When the sun is not highlighting their rich, green iridescence, these drakes nearly look black and white. These stunning drakes were photographed by Melissa Penta in Pennsylvania.

4. Redhead

Another species with a short eclipse period is the Redhead. From many angles this drake's head feathers are cinnamon colored in appearance. Very rarely, when the sun hits just right, you might catch a glimpse of a beautiful, purplish iridescence.

Drake Readhead duck swiming in beautiful water ripples reflecting the sky above, photographed by Beth Stewart

These diving ducks are seasonally monogamous, which is true of many duck species. During winter migration the hen selects her drake and they return together to their nesting grounds for breeding. During the winter months, large rafts of Redheads, sometimes including hundreds of ducks, can be found wintering on Cayuga Lake. Beth Stewart photographed this Redhead at the Taughannock Falls State Park Marina.

5. Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail photographed by Diana Meyn

This week we are featuring a bonus, sixth image to round off our selection of drakes. Photographed by Diana Meyn, this Northern Pintail is exhibiting a feature worth noting. While the necks of these drakes are typically a brilliant white, this male is showing a lot of bronze. The ferrous solution caused by dissolved iron ore in the water where they feed and preen is responsible for this discoloration.


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