National Geographic : 1915 Aug
RUDDY DUCK (Erismatura jamaicensis). Range: Breeds from central British Columbia, Great Slave Lake, southern Keewatin, and northern Ungava south to northern Lower California, central Arizona, northern New Mexico, northwestern Nebraska, southern Minnesota, southern Michigan, southern Ontario, and Maine; winters from southern British Columbia, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Illinois, Maine and Pennsylvania, south to the Lesser Antilles and Costa Rica. The ruddy duck, or "dumb bird," as it is called in New England, alias the rook of the Potomac region, has a wide range in the United States from seacoast to seacoast, and formerly nested over much of this wide territory. That it is not unknown to spo sen and others is attested by the fact that Trumbull in his "Names and Prtrt of Birds" gives sixty-seven synonyms under which it ap pears. Some of the as deaf duck," "fool duck," "dumb bird," are indicative of its disposition; ie others like "bull neck," "spine-tail duck," mark certain physical peculiarities. In appearance it is quite unlike any other duck, and when swimming, its plump, round body and uplifted tail serve to distinguish it to the merest tyro. It is extremely sociable and unites in large flocks, sometimes in company with other species. Over most of its range the little ruddy duck was formerly lightly esteemed for food, and consequently enjoyed comparative im munity from the pursuit of sportsmen and even from market gunners. As other more highly prized species diminished in numbers, the ruddy attracted more attention, and in waters like the Potomac River, where the rookies formerly gath ered in fall by thousands, only a beggary remnant remains. Ruddies are the more easily killed because they do not readily take wing, but being expert divers endeavor, when pursued, to escape by diving. The gunner aware of this weak ness has only to persist in pursuit of the birds, one after another, to secure most or all of a flock. FULVOUS TREE-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor). Range: Breeds from central California, middle-western Nevada, southern Arizona, and central Texas south to the Valley of Mexico and Michoacan; winters from central California and central Texas to southern Mexico. The tree-ducks are tropical species, two of which, the black-bellied and the fulvous tree-duck, extend their range into the United States. In this country at least there is little to warrant the name of tree-duck, as the bird is no more arboreal, if as much so, than the wood-duck. No doubt it alights in trees in wooded dis tricts, and very probably it occasionally nests in hollow trees, as do several others of our ducks; more often, however, it nests on the ground for the sufficient reason that much of the territory it inhabits is practically treeless. The only place in which I ever saw this species was Washoe Lake, Nevada, and there its habits are so similar to other ducks that frequent shallow lakes that at first I hardly recog nized it. It is much more numerous in southern California than in Nevada, but migrates farther south in winter. This duck is credited with laying an unusu ally large clutch of eggs, from fifteen to thirty, but very probably the larger number is the result of two or more females laying in the same nest on a cooperative basis. WOODDUCK (Aix sponsa). Range: Breeds from southernBritish Columbia, central Saskatchewan, north ern Ontario, New Brunswick, andNova Scotia south tocentral California, southern Texas, Florida, and Cuba; winterschiefly inthe United States from southern British Columbia, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey south tosouth ern California and the Gulf of Mexico. However divided the sportsmen ofAmerica may beonthemany questions affecting their rights and privileges, they should one and allunite inanattempt to preserve the existence of the wood duck, perhaps the most beautiful oftheduck tribe. It is true that in some sections ofthe country thewood duck isstill far from uncommon, but no one conversant with thepresent state ofaffairs can exam ine the records of its former range and abundance without being convinced that the danger threatening the species isreal and imminent; nor need recorded evi dence alone be relied upon, forthere aremany sportsmen alive to-day whose memories go back to the time when this beautiful bird abounded inmost ofthe wooded sections of eastern United States, where to-day few, ifany, remain. A regulation under the Federal migratory bird law provides aclosed season for the wood duck until 1918, and ifthis prohibition isfaithfully observed, there is every reason to believe that the species will materially increase, more particularly as in States where it is wholly protected, orprotected inspring, anincrease in numbers has already been noted.Itwill betoour everlasting shame ifthis, one of the most perfect of Nature's creations, isallowed tomeet the same fate asthe passenger pigeon. Practically all thewood ducks nest and winter within our own boundaries and it is for us tosay what shall betheir fate. WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons gambeli). Range: Breeds on and near the Arctic coast from northeastern Siberia east to northeastern Mackenzie and south tolower Yukon Valley; winters from southern British Columbia to southern Lower California and Jalisco. Though occasionally met withon theAtlantic coast and not uncommon inthe Mississippi Valley, the white-fronted goose isessentially abird ofthefarWest, and is particularly abundant in the Pacific Coast States. This isone ofthe geese which used to visit the wheat fields of California insuch numbers astothreaten thecrop, and which men were hired to killand frighten away. The hordes offormer days are now represented by comparatively small numbers, and astheflesh istoothsome the problem of the near future isnot how todestroy thebirds most cheaply but what methods to employ to preserve them. White-fronted geese were found by Nelson breeding abundantly in the Yukon delta from thelast ofMay tillwell into June. Their nests are placed onthegrassy borders oflakelets, whence the young can be quickly led into theprotecting water. Infar-off Alaska this and the numerous other species ofwaterfowl that summer there inmultitudes not only find comparatively safe solitudes inwhich tonest but, what isequally ormore important, abundant food for themselves and their young. When they arrive in Alaska, late in April or early in May, according totheseason, they find theprevi ous year's crop of heath berries awaiting them incold storage. Again inAugust and September the new crop ofberries isripe, and upon this thegeese fatten and prepare themselves for the trip southward. Thus Alaska, theacquisition ofwhich from Russia has more than fulfilled our expectations inmany ways, proves tobe the mecca of our waterfowl which, resorting there inspring bythousands, return in fall in fourfold numbers.