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Winter is rapidly ending in southeastern Arizona, with daytime highs now pushing routinely into the mid-70s and the amount of sunlight increasing steadily each day. There may be more winter weather ahead of us, but the trend is definitely towards spring. The wildlife is reacting to the change. Over at Sweetwater Wetlands the Cottonwoods are in bloom and the reeds are regenerating. Many of the bird species are beginning to engage in courtship behavior. The number of ducks on the wetlands’ ponds is greatly increased, a phenomenon that will precede a mass departure in a very few weeks as the spring migration begins.
One of the duck species that I’m seeing a lot more of in recent days is Gadwalls. These are particularly beautiful dabbling ducks (dabblers do not immerse their entire bodies in the water when they feed, they just submerge their heads and upper bodies). They’re not very large and from a distance they kind of blend into the background. But, up close, the males of this species reveal extraordinary plumage.
Much of their upper bodies are covered with a feathers that form a tight black and white pattern. Their outer wings are copper colored and in the right light they seem to glow. Their beaks, eyes, and rear ends are jet black.
The males of most duck species are far showier than are the females. Intense colors and intricate plumage patterns are the norm for male ducks of many species and I often wonder how it is that they could have involved such extraordinary plumage. My guess is that it has a lot to do with attracting the girls. Female ducks of a given species must be attracted to certain plumage colors and patterns and so, the males in each species engage in a kind of evolutionary arms race, with plumage evolving into ever-more showy and complex forms over time.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii,400 DO + 1.4X Extender, ISO 400. The first photo was taken in “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/400. The second photo was taken in “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/500.