Water birds seen on the lakes and shores of Island Lakes
by Charlene Simpson
January 2012 update – birds seen on the lakes and shores of Island Lakes
(The author has added six more birds to her original article.)
Getting to know the birds at Island Lakes enriches our experience as residents. Learning about the natural history of our area contributes to our sense of place.
Some bird visitors to Island Lakes are year round residents of the Willamette Valley. Food is plentiful and they enjoy mild winters compared with other places. Life is good, so they stay. Others are migratory and have a calling to travel. They stop at our lakes to rest and feed before resuming their journey. These birds appear only during certain seasons.
The most common birds on our lakes are the Canada goose and the Mallard duck. Both have adapted to human presence. We co-exist with geese and ducks at Island Lakes. It is our responsibility to let them be wild. DO NOT FEED the geese and ducks!
Grazers, skimmers, and dabblers
Many of the Canada Geese at Island Lakes stay in our area year round. They forage in water but also on land, mostly on lawn grass at Island Lakes. There are also migratory races that arrive in October and depart by May. Geese mate for life. In spring we see geese families with downy goslings that quickly grow to become gangly adolescents.
Mallards forage in water, upending to find plant material. They are seen on all lakes of our property. Males put on courting plumage in the fall. Eggs are placed away from water, sometimes in our borders among the ground cover and shrubbery. Ducklings hatch in spring. Males stick around during incubation, but depart after hatching leaving child rearing to Mom.
The American Wigeon is a common winter visitor in our area arriving in late August; departing by May. They congregate in large flocks feeding on aquatic vegetation, occasionally coming on shore to eat blades of grass on our lawns.
The Northern Shoveler is identified by a spoon-shaped bill adapted to food gathering. Shovelers are filter feeders. They feed by sweeping the bill from side to side at the surface trapping food particles in sieve-like structures in the bill. Males have a green head like a Mallard, snow white breast and chestnut colored sides.
American Coots are common winter visitors in the Willamette Valley. They are chicken sized with a slate-gray body, black head and neck and a white bill. Coots feed mainly by diving for vegetation, but they also dabble from the surface and graze on lawn grass.
Buffleheads are small plump diving ducks seen in small groups on the main lake in winter. They arrive in October and are generally gone by May. Males are dressed in black and white plumage. Buffleheads feed on aquatic weeds by diving and swimming under water.
The Hooded Merganser is a small, long-tailed diving duck. Both males and females have a conspicuous crest on the back of the head that can be expanded or contracted. The hooded merganser is a diving bird swimming under water for fish and insects. Watch for them on the main lake in fall and winter.
Ring-necked Ducks have a distinctive blue-gray bill with a white ring near the tip. The shape of the head is peaked; the male’s head feathers are purplish-iridescent. Ring-necks swim with Lesser Scaups and are similar in size. There are differences which you can see by comparing them side-by-side. They dive for aquatic plants and insects. Look for ring-neck ducks in winter on IL’s main lake.
Lesser Scaups are common winter residents in our area, departing by April for breeding grounds in Alaska. They dive for aquatic animals and plants. Scaups are gregarious and hang out with Greater Scaups and other ducks on our main lake. An identifier is the bluish color of the bill.
Greater Scaups are slightly larger than Lesser Scaups, but otherwise similar. The sheen on the head is green, rather than purple and the sides are whiter in Greater Scaups. View Scaups on our main lake in winter. You see them at the surface, and then they disappear leaving behind a telltale ring of disturbed water. Shortly they reappear in a different location following their dive for aquatic plants and animals.
Double-crested Cormorants are common winter residents in our area. They dive for small fish. They visit our main lake from time to time, but are more frequently seen in the Delta Ponds where they perch on logs with wings outstretched to dry. Double-crested cormorants swim low in the water with neck and head extended upward reminding one of a water snake.
A mature Great Blue Heron can stand 4’ tall. They nest in tall cottonwoods along the Willamette River and adjacent sloughs. They are expert hunters depending on sharp eye-sight, focus and swift action. Their long pointed bills propelled by long muscular necks spell the quick demise of fish, frogs and aquatic insects.
The Green Heron is a small, stocky wading bird uncommon in our area. He is the size of a crow with a short neck. He stands motionless waiting for a small fish to approach. This fellow was fishing from the concrete lip of the small lake near my front entrance.
The Spotted Sandpiper has a distinctive habit – he teeters up and down while walking. I observed this fellow foraging at the margin of our main lake. He eats insects, tiny fish and other small organisms. Despite his name he doesn’t always show his spots. During fall and winter he goes brown and white; the spots appear in the Spring when he gets dressed up for courting.
Fishing birds from a perch
Every year we are visited by at least one Belted Kingfisher. He perches on the swimming pool fence facing toward the lakes. He’s a solitary bird and doesn’t stick around very long, perhaps because our lakes don’t provide an abundance of fish which are his favorite food. On the wing he is identified by his rattling call and jerky flight.
Nehls, Harry, Tom Aversa & Hal Opperman. Birds of the Willamette Valley Region. R. W. Morse Co. Olympia, WA. 2004.Niering, William A. Audubon Society Nature Guides: Wetlands. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1985. Robbins, Chandler, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Golden Press. New York. 1966 Udvardy, Miklos D.F. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Western Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1977. “Wetlands, Lakes and Ponds” http://www.birdnature.com/lakes.html