Photo by Bob Mckay
South Okanagan Nature Photo by Bob Mckay redhead
The Redhead duck is one of the more common ducks seen in winter in the South Okanagan

Ducks a common sight in winter

Winter is a great time to see ducks and other waterfowl in the Okanagan Valley. Ducks are the most common waterfowl but geese, swans, mergansers, coots and grebes can also be easily seen. The local Christmas bird counts routinely turn up between 15 and 20 species of waterfowl.

If you are new to observing ducks, the first thing to note is whether it is a diving duck (goes completely underwater to get food) or whether it is a dabbling duck – puts its head under water but keeps its butt above the surface. All ducks fall into one of these groups so you can focus in your bird book on only those ducks which fall into that group. The common Mallard is a dabbling duck whereas this month’s featured bird, Redhead, is a diving duck. These are the two most common ducks in the Okanagan in winter. Last year during the Penticton Christmas Bird Count 1805 Mallards were recorded and 927 Redheads. The Redheads often occur in fairly large mixed flocks in which you might see 4 or 5 other species of ducks. Some of the best spots are Penticton Marina area, SunOka Beach, Vaseux Lake and Osoyoos Lake. It is interesting to note that while both of these ducks are common in the Okanagan they do have different geographic ranges. Mallards occur across most of North America with the exception of northern Quebec and the Maritime provinces. Redheads on the other hand, while very widespread in the US, in Canada are predominantly a Prairie bird. In BC they are restricted to the south central interior region.

All birds move about during their lives; those that migrate often move great distances annually while going from their winter homes to their summer nesting grounds. Migrating birds, as well as those that do not migrate, face many hazards.

There are published estimates that as many as 550 million birds a year in the USA are killed by flying into windows and about 200 million more are killed by house cats. Collisions with vehicles are estimated to kill about 80 million birds a year and more than 100 million in collisions with electric transmission lines. (see But as staggering as these numbers are, by far the greatest threat to birds is the loss of habitat. It is estimated that loss of habitat is more responsible than all other causes combined for reduced bird populations. .

We pat ourselves on the back whenever we mange to establish another small park or otherwise preserve 20 or 50 acres of habitat in a given area. While these efforts are laudable, scientific studies show that small islands of habitat in a sea of disturbed land do very little to preserve the species for which the habitat was important. It is now clear that only very large tracts of habitat or smaller interconnected tracts can really help to preserve species diversity - not just for birds but for all plants and animals.

But you can help immediately with reducing bird losses to window collisions by keeping your bird feeders either very close to your windows (less than 1 metre) or more than 10 metres (35 ft) away.

Nature Wise