nature

Winter Ducks of the Rio Grande

As good a time as any to head to the bosque

Coot is cute!
Coot is cute!

I'm lucky enough to have had the opportunity to spend several mornings and evenings along the middle Rio Grande bosque counting songbirds and waterfowl. Along with the season's emblematic Sandhill Cranes, there is an abundance of birds that are easy to spot, easy to identify and which there is plenty of to see along Albuquerque's sliver of the mighty river.

Among these, perhaps the most common is the Mallard Duck. Both males and females- usually mated at this point in the year- swim through the acqueias and the river proper. These ducks are endemic the whole world through and the males- with a glossy green head and shades of brown feathers down their wings, backs and chests- are easy to spot. More often than not, if you spot a male, there will be a better camouflaged female nearby.

The Gadwall Duck- nearly the size of the Mallard, but with more understated coloration and a black bill- is also easy to find in the river this winter. These ducks are nearly as widespread as the Mallard due to their extreme adaptability. They've even been known to snatch food from the beak of other diving ducks.

Looking for something even more adorable? The Coot- technically part of the Rail family- is dark, petite and easy to spot in open water. These birds are black throughout the body, but have a light, even white colored bill, and sometimes show white on the tail. Making them even more endearing, coots have small, rounded wings and are weak fliers, despite their ability to cover large distances when necessary.

Also keep an eye out for the striking Wigeon, too. These birds breed farther north and make their way down to Albuquerque during the winter season. Males are colorful, with a cream colored forehead and jade green highlights while females are grayish overall. I've spotted just one along the Rio Grande this winter, but these are increasingly abundant.

Also found along the river: dog prints, coyote prints, the spine of a large mammal. Winter time is just as wonderful to test the waters of the Rio Grande, particularly when we have such an abundance of beautiful birds floating by for the season.