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Ring-Necked Ducks Are Here—But Not for Long

Excerpt from “Ducks at a Distance: a waterfowl identification guide,” Department of the Interior, 1963. Click to enlarge.

November is a time of minor milestones in the Adirondacks. Bucks go into rut, hunters go into camp and ring-necked ducks fly into town.

My friend Shamim phoned this week to alert me that the boreal ducks are back in her neighborhood, on Moody Pond, in the village of Saranac Lake. As of today there were about 80; there will probably be more before the ice grows from the edge toward the middle and they fly off.

Bicyclists, walkers and joggers circle the water on a paved road. The people and the ducks are peacefully oblivious to each other, except when the birds break into splashing and croaking bath time.

Moody Pond is a stop on a migration from north to south. In summer, ring-necked ducks breed in wetlands across the Canadian Shield. The Adirondacks is at the southern edge of the summer range, but this region is a ring-neck stronghold, not an outlier. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (2008) indicates that the Adirondack population is stable (34 confirmed breeding sites and 28 probable sites) and may be increasing.

A side note: I am awful at identifying ducks, especially in the cold when species that look alike bob far offshore. When my brothers and I were kids, our father’s idea of a game was to quiz us with Ducks-at-a-Distance flash cards. He cut up a Department of the Interior waterfowl identification guide (see image) and pasted the duck illustrations on one side of little squares of cardboard with species names on the other side. It was fun but I still have trouble with scaups and scoters. I imprinted the markings of the male ring-neck later in life because it is a distinctly Adirondack interior bird. In summer it’s common to see ring-necks in pairs or small groups in the St. Regis Canoe Wilderness. I often wonder if those individuals are part of the gang that meets up every fall in town.

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