Birds of the Prairie

Multimedia

Wood Duck

Aix sponsa

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken April 12, 2017, at Otter Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tama County, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken April 12, 2017, at Otter Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tama County, Iowa

The Wood Duck is one of the most stunningly pretty of all waterfowl. Males are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather; the elegant females have a distinctive profile and delicate white pattern around the eye. These birds live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up around lake margins. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.

Song: Although better known for their distinctive coloration, Wood Duck calls are easily identifiable as well. Females make loud “oo-eek, oo-eek” sounds when disturbed and when taking flight. Male Wood Ducks have a thin, rising and falling zeeting whistle. While flying, the wings of the wood duck make a whistling or whirring sound (Description adapted from text created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ).

To hear an audio recording of the Wood Duck, captured by Paul Driver, visit Xeno-canto , or download the fully interactive PDF of this issue’s Birds of the Prairie feature by using the hyperlink at the bottom of the web page.

Baltimore Oriole

Icterus galbula

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken May 19, 2013, at Arbor Lake City Park in Grinnell, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken May 19, 2013, at Arbor Lake City Park in Grinnell, Iowa

The rich, whistling song of the Baltimore Oriole, echoing from treetops near homes and parks, is a sweet herald of spring in Eastern North America. Look way up to find these singers: the male’s brilliant orange plumage blazes from high branches like a torch. Nearby, you might spot the female weaving her remarkable hanging nest from slender fibers. Fond of fruit and nectar as well as insects, Baltimore Orioles are easily lured to backyard feeders.

Song: The pure, liquid, whistling tones of the male Baltimore Oriole are a herald of springtime in eastern North America. His song consists of a short series of paired notes, repeated 2–7 times, lasting 1–2 seconds. The flutelike sound has a full, rich tone. The male sings to establish and defend a breeding territory, so you won’t hear the full song on the wintering grounds. The female Baltimore Oriole also sings. Her shorter songs may be communications with her mate. Occasionally, mated pairs may sing a duet. (Description adapted from text created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ).

To hear an audio recording of the Baltimore Oriole, captured by Antonio Xeira, visit Xeno-canto .

Common Loon

Gavia immer

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken April 11, 2018, at Lake Ponderosa, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken April 11, 2018, at Lake Ponderosa, Iowa

The eerie calls of Common Loons echo across clear lakes of the northern wilderness. Summer adults are regally patterned in black and white. In winter, they are plain gray above and white below, and you’ll find them close to shore on most seacoasts and a good many inland reservoirs and lakes. Common Loons are powerful, agile divers that catch small fish in fast underwater chases. They are less suited to land, and typically come ashore only to nest. (Description courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

Song: Common Loons are famous for their eerie, beautiful calls. Among these are the tremolo, a wavering call given when a loon is alarmed or to announce its presence at a lake. The yodel is the male loon’s territorial claim. Each male has his own signature yodel. If a male moves to a different territory, he will change his yodel. The wail is the haunting call that loons give back and forth to figure out each other’s location. Hoots are soft, short calls given to keep in contact with each other. Parents might hoot to a chick, or one mate might hoot to another. (Description adapted from text created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ).

To hear an audio recording of the Common Loon, captured by Lance A. M. Benner, visit Xeno-canto .

Hooded Merganaser

Lophodytes cucullatus

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken February 19, 2017, at  Otter Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tama County, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Ken Saunders II, taken February 19, 2017, at Otter Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tama County, Iowa

The “Hooded” Merganser is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old.

Song: Hooded Mergansers are usually silent, but they call during courtship and around nest sites. A courting male makes a deep, rolling sound like the call of a pickerel frog, earning it the nickname of “frog-duck” in Georgia. Females give a hoarse gack call during courtship. When females call in flight or to newly hatched ducklings, they use a rough croo-croo-crook similar to that of many sea ducks. (Description adapted from text created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology .)

To hear an audio recording of the Hooded Merganser, captured by Jim Berry, visit Xeno-canto .