A few New Mexico birds: Anseriformes

 

Anseriformes includes ducks, geese, and swans. Birds are presented in alphabetical order by family, genus, and species. Hover over a photo series to control the images.


Anatidae: Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Although female wood ducks look drab next to the males, they do flash some color when their wings open. As one of my photos shows, they can even show a bit of green on their heads.

 

Anatidae: Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

 

Green-Winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)

On the males the patch of bright green, sweeping back from the eye in an otherwise cinnamon-colored head, is distinctive. As my photos show, the eye patch can flash blue instead of green. Less obvious in my photos is a vertical white patch on the male's "shoulder."

 

In one photo, you can barely see the small patch of green (or in this light, blue) that sometimes shows on a female's wing. 

 

Anatidae: Mexican duck (Anas diazi)

Mexican ducks look a lot like female mallards, only their bodies are darker. It helps to see the Mexican duck with a female mallard, as is the case here, so the difference stands out.  The dark body contrasts with the neck and head, which is like a female mallard's.

 

Like male mallards, male Mexican ducks have yellow beaks. At their other ends, they have neither the black and white patches nor the upward-curling feathers seen on male mallards. Female Mexican ducks reportedly have mottled orange and black beaks. I say "reportedly" because here in Albuquerque, I've yet to see a female with a Mexican duck's darker body plumage.

 

In the photos shown above, the male Mexican duck is consorting with a female mallard. Given such behavior, it's not surprising that locally, Mexican duck-mallard hybrids also occur.

 

Anatidae: Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Identifying male mallards is painless, and identifying the females takes very little practice. However, mallards breed with other wild species and with domestic ducks, leading to mixes that are difficult to impossible to identify. The male offspring of a mallard and a Mexican duck is sufficiently rare and noteworthy in the Albuquerque area that I'll discuss it immediately below.

 

Mallard-Mexican Duck Hybrid? (Anas platyrhynchos X diazi)

These two images feature paired males and females, the males resembling female mallards but having yellow beaks and darker-than-usual bodies. In each case, the female appears to be a mallard. In one image (of the pair out of the water), a close look at the male's tail area shows a black patch (both above and below the tail feathers) and upward-curling feathers. These rump features mark it as a Mallard-Mexican duck hybrid. In the other image (of the pair in the water), the male's tail area is just like a female mallard's, indicating that the male is a Mexican duck.

 

Anatidae: Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

 

Anatidae: Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

 

Anatidae: Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides domesticus)

I'm including this barnyard goose because it might throw you at first. It's the domesticated form of the Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides cygnoides) native to eastern Asia. The smaller domesticated breed is referred to as Chinese Swan Geese, the larger breed as African Swan Geese, but both breeds apparently originated in China. Its all-white form is more obviously domesticated.

 

Anatidae: Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

The easy way to distinguish a lesser scaup from a ring-necked duck (below) is to notice the  the lack of a white stripe across the beak. Male lesser scaups also have a cloth-like pattern on their backs, while the females have patches of white next to their beaks.

 

Anatidae: Redhead (Aythya americana)

 

Anatidae: Ring-Necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

Don't look for obvious rings on these ducks' necks; when their head is scrunched down, the ring isn't visible. Even when the male's neck is extended, the most you'll get is a red sheen on an otherwise black neck. In one photo of a male you can see a tiny bit of the ring, indicated with an arrow. In another photo, which took me multiple outings to score, the reddish ring is obvious. 

 

Similarly, the female's ring is hidden most of the time but when she extends her neck, there's a more credible white ring.

 

Anatidae: Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

 

Anatidae: Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

The Canada Geese seen along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque include a resident population and a much larger number of winter visitors.

 

Anatidae: Cackling Goose? (Branta hutchinsii)

While looking at geese in a field, I noticed four possible cackling geese, which are so similar to Canada geese that they were once considered the same species. As the flock shifted around, my four alleged cackling geese stayed together.

 

To be honest, I don't trust my ability to distinguish cackling geese from Canada geese. Cackling geese are smaller than Canada geese, and have shorter necks and bills, but those are relative measures. Cackling geese also have more prominent "foreheads" than Canada geese, whose heads slope more smoothly back from their bills. But am I ever 100 percent sure of my cackling goose IDs? No, I'm not.

 

Anatidae: Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

So far, just grainy distant shots. Fortunately, the head markings are distinctive. The male has a large white patch extending from one eye around the back of the head to the other eye. It also has a lot of white on the body. From a distance the male looks black and white (as in the insert to the left). Close up, and with the right light, the male's head is iridescent. The female has a white oval cheek patch with a horizontal long axis, on an otherwise dark body. Both males and females have dark bills.

 

Anatidae: Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

So far, distant grainy shots of the males. The big round circle on the cheek is distinctive. Depending on the light, the green head may look black. As my one shot of a female shows, they look completely different.

 

Anatidae: Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

These mergansers raise and lower their "hoods" (crests), changing their appearance. The female's crest can look tan to slightly rufous, depending on the light. Nonbreeding males resemble the females but have black bills like the breeding males.

 

Anatidae: American Wigeon (Mareca americana)

 

Anatidae: Gadwall (Mareca strepera)

 

Anatidae: Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

In Eurasia, this species is known as a goosander. I finally resolved my difficulties distinguishing female common and red-breasted mergansers by noticing the prominent white chin and neck patches on the common females.

 

Red-Breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Outside of migration season, red-breasted mergansers are rare in New Mexico. My main reason to include photos of this female is to allow comparisons with female common mergansers. They're very similar-looking! When the birds aren't extending their necks, it can be hard to tell whether a white neck patch is present. However, you should always be able to tell whether or not there's a white chin patch. If not, it's a red-breasted.

 

 Anatidae: Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

 

On breeding male ruddy ducks, the blue bill stands out! Unfortunately, during my one encounter with a breeding male, he was napping with the bill tucked away. When he pulled out his bill my photo was blurred; I'll include it as a thumbnail to the left so you can at least see the color.

 

Anatidae: Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

 

Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera)

Both April 2021 images of a female are of the same individual. In one she's flashing the cloudy blue part of her wing; in the other that color is concealed.

 

Blue-Winged Teal (Spatula discors)