National Geographic : 1934 Oct
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE unknown on salt water. This fact makes it one of the best of all diving birds for the table. It is a beautiful sight in southern British Columbia to see the return of the redheads at the first sign of spring to the large lakes of the interior. The first break of the win ter conditions used to bring them pouring in (I say used, for they no longer do so) until many hundreds were bedded together out in deep water. These were at first nearly all males in high condition both as to weight and plumage. As darkness fell, the air was filled with the mewing call of the males, exactly like the mew of a cat. This is the spring note, and I have never heard it in the fall. I know of no lake in the Province where this early movement occurs nowadays, and the birds have quite changed their habits, being found on the small upland ponds where they never used to occur. To nest they resort to lakes with a heavy growth of rushes. One lake close to my home has as many as 300 pairs on the three miles of its length. But hardly any young are reared, although crowds of the little golden downies may be seen in the rushes in July and early August. One year the nests were badly drowned out by the damming of this lake for irriga tion supply; so the ducks laid their eggs in any kind of nest that survived. Some ex traordinary combinations of mixed eggs were to be seen. A little pied-billed grebe whose floating nest had survived was having a hard time, as, in addition to her own eggs, three coots' and two redheads' had been imposed upon her. The little mother was furiously en gaged in trying to eject the latter, three times the size of her own, and I saw her at last succeed in rolling one of the huge eggs into the water. Even under ordinary conditions some ducks have this cuckoolike habit and the redhead is particularly casual in this re spect. Redheads may be classed as large-sized ducks, but the weight of even large, fat birds will be under three pounds. When feeding in deep water-and they can bring up their duck-weed food from a depth of 40 feet or more-redheads are commonly attended by baldpates and coots. Both of these watch the redhead's return to the surface, its bill full of weed, and this is deftly tweaked away, without any pro- test from the much-enduring redhead, which at once proceeds to dive for a fresh mouthful. This goes on for hour after hour until all are satisfied. Ring-Necked Duck (Nyroca collaris) "Ring-bill" is a commoner and much more appropriate name than ring-neck for this little duck. The ring on the neck is an obscure character confined to the old males, but in life the two bands of brilliant white on the bill are a conspicuous character in both sexes (see Plate IX). "Black-jack" is another common local name, but this is also shared with the lesser scaup. The range of the ring-neck is very much the same as that of the redhead, even more southerly, and it is rare or absent from the New England States and along the north eastern coast of Canada. Usually the ring-neck is compared to a lesser scaup, which it resembles in size; also, the black heads of the males are similar. But actually it is a very close relative of the redhead, the female ring-neck being a miniature of the female of that duck. Ring-necks are very fast flyers; few ducks can equal them when going at full speed. Of late years the species has shown a de cided decrease throughout its range. That may be only temporary, as it has always been a duck which showed wide fluctuations between abundance and scarcity. Ring-necks are usually exceptionally fat and will weigh from one pound and a half to a few ounces heavier in this con dition, which classes it as a medium-small duck. Greater Scaup (Nyroca marila) Scaups, more generally known as "blue bills," "blackheads," and "raft ducks," are divided into two species, the great similarity of which is responsible for much confusion, especially in the delimitation of their nest ing ranges (see Plate X). The greater scaup is an Arctic-nesting species, breeding along the northern rim of the continent north of the tree limit, east to the Hudson Bay region; it winters as far south as California and the Gulf of Mexico, where it is much scarcer than the lesser scaup.