Winter Duckfest Part VIII — American Wigeons, Airborne

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I find photographing ducks in flight to be really difficult, particularly when the birds are flying low.  At this angle the ducks often come zipping by with little or no warning and I only have a couple of seconds to react and take a picture. I must ordinarily pan the camera to hold it on the birds.  Usually, the camera’s autofocus only has a second or less to zero in on the flying bird.  As a consequence of these difficulties, most of my ducks in flight shots are blurred messes.

Every once in a while, however, things go reasonably well.  I was fairly successful the other day capturing this pair of American Wigeons as they zoomed by me.

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Ducks are among the most aerodynamic of birds.  In the air they’re shaped like feathered cruise missiles.  This is obviously an evolved feature and it may help these birds compensate for some other issues that would serve to make flying difficult for them.  Ducks are quite heavy in relation to their overall wing size.  Other birds of equivalent weight, like Red-tailed Hawks, for example, have much larger wings in proportion to their bodies than do ducks.  So, for ducks, flying becomes much more of an issue of brute strength than it is for other species.  Ducks must also be extra-strong because they launch themselves into the air from water.  A hawk can push off from the ground or a tree branch when it takes flight.  Not so with a duck, it not only has nothing to push off against when it takes flight from water, but the water can serve as a drag on the duck.  So, streamlining may help, at least when the ducks are finally airborne.

The brilliant white patch on the male wigeon’s (the lead duck’s) wing is another interesting feature.  These white patches are invisible when the duck has his wings folded.  I wonder if they serve as signals to other wigeons when the ducks are in flight, perhaps as a cue to enable the ducks to fly in formation (formation flying is another way of lessening drag and making flight less tiring).  Other duck species also have these brilliant wing patches (Mallards, for example, have violet wing patches) and that may be no coincidence.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f7.1 @ 1/1600.

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