Bird of the Week: Gadwall

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Species: Gadwall, or Mareca strepera

Family: Anatidae (waterfowl, i.e. ducks, geese, and swans)

Star sign: Taurus

Rating: 12/10

Ideal Date: Playing minigolf at Pirate’s Cove Minigolf in Williamsburg, Virginia

The Gadwall is a duck that flies under the radar. While most ducks have males with colorful coats and females with drab ones, the Gadwall is a bird of equality — both females AND males have drab, nondescript, grey-brown coats! With such an unremarkable appearance, this wonderful waterfowl is easy to overlook, especially considering that it often flocks with much more visually interesting fellows such as Mallards and Wood Ducks. Only once you’ve noticed a Gadwall and gotten a closer look will you be able to see the subtle, intricate vermiculation of their feathers like sunlight on a grey sea floor, or the elegant reddish feathers that plume across their wings. Gadwalls know how to make taupe work for them!

These beige boys are dabbling ducks, which means that instead of diving underwater to get their food, they sit on the surface and stick in their heads, foraging anything within reach. But that’s not the only way they get food. In certain conditions, particularly when food is scarce, Gadwalls have been known to steal food gathered by American Coots and some species of diving duck. They may not swashbuckle, but these furtive friends can sail and steal with the best pirates around! Yo-ho-ho!

This discreet duck is about the same size as a Mallard and can be difficult to notice in a crowd. Although male and female Gadwalls have similarly muted appearances, the species does still exhibit sexual dimorphism: females look almost exactly like female Mallards, only they have thinner, darker beaks, and are missing the Mallard’s indigo secondary feathers. Males, on the other hand, look a uniform gray color from far away, but a closer look reveals that their heads are brown and their bodies a wavy-patterned gray. Also note the male’s pitch-black rump feathers and red-tinted wing feathers. Both sexes have white secondary feathers that are sometimes visible while swimming. Gadwalls can be found in Portland year-round, though they are more common in winter, and are frequent visitors to the Canyon and the small pond directly to its east. In fact, there are a few of these beige buccaneers in the Canyon right now. Good luck finding them!

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