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Gadwall

Anas strepera ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In a world where male ducks sport gleaming patches of green, red, or blue, the Gadwall’s understated elegance can make this common duck easy to overlook. Males are intricately patterned with gray, brown, and black; females resemble female Mallards, although with a thinner, darker bill. We don’t tend to think of ducks as pirates, but Gadwall often snatch food from diving ducks as they surface. This widespread, adaptable duck has dramatically increased in numbers in North America since the 1980s.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
18.1–22.4 in
46–57 cm
Wingspan
33.1 in
84 cm
Weight
17.6–44.1 oz
500–1250 g
Relative Size
Slightly smaller than a Mallard; larger than a Green-winged Teal.
Other Names
  • Canard chipeau (French)
  • Pato ruidoso, Anade riente (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Gadwall sometimes steal food from American Coots and from other ducks.
  • Gadwall have increased in numbers since the 1980s, partly because of conservation of wetlands and adjacent uplands in their breeding habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Their habit of nesting on islands within marshes gives them some protection from predators.
  • Female Gadwall produce an egg a day while they are laying their 7–12-egg clutches. To meet their demand for protein during this stressful time, female Gadwall eat more invertebrates than males during this period—in addition to using reserves of nutrients they’ve stored in their bodies during the winter.
  • The oldest known Gadwall was a male, and at least 19 years, 6 months old. He was banded in Saskatchewan in 1962 and shot during hunting season in Louisiana in 1981.

Habitat


Marsh

Gadwall breed mainly in prairie potholes—small ponds scattered throughout the Great Plains and Canadian prairies. Some also breed on tundra, deltas, and wetlands in boreal forests of the far north. In developed areas with few natural ponds, Gadwall may use stock ponds. They choose well-vegetated wetlands with plenty of emergent plants to feed among and take cover in. Equally important for breeding are adjacent uplands with vegetation to conceal nests and for ducklings to hide in. On migration and in winter, look for Gadwalls in fresh and salt water marshes and well-vegetated reservoirs, beaver ponds, farm ponds, and streams.

Food


Plants

Gadwall eat mostly submerged aquatic vegetation such as algae, grasses, rushes, sedges, pondweed, widgeon grass, and water milfoil, including leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. They also eat snails, midges, water beetles, and other invertebrates. During the breeding season, animal matter can account for nearly 50 percent of an adult Gadwall’s diet, but this proportion drops to only about 5 percent animal matter during winter.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
7–12 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1.9–2.4 in
4.9–6 cm
Egg Width
1.3–1.7 in
3.4–4.4 cm
Incubation Period
24–27 days
Nestling Period
1–2 days
Condition at Hatching
Alert, fully covered with down, eyes open, ready to leave the nest in a day or two.
Nest Description

The female scrapes out a hollow, then settles into the nest and reaches out to grab twigs and leaves with her bill. She sets these against herself to form the base of a nest cup, then plucks her own down feathers to make an insulating lining. The finished nest is about a foot across with a cup 3 inches deep. It takes 5–7 days to go from looking for a nest site to having a finished nest ready for egg laying.

Nest Placement

Ground

Gadwall pairs form during fall migration. Once they return to their breeding grounds, they select their nest site while flying low over dry, grassy areas. The female makes a closer inspection on foot while the male stands guard near her. They typically choose dense brush or grasses at least a foot tall, usually within 200 yards of open water, and nest on islands when possible for greater safety from predators. In heavily cultivated areas, untilled land for nest sites can be a scarce resource.

Behavior


Dabbler

Gadwall are dabbling ducks—they ride fairly high in the water and they tip forward to graze on submerged plants that they can reach with their outstretched necks. They rarely dive. Gadwall sometimes steal food from American Coots. Like most ducks they often form flocks, and you may see them fidgeting as they swim about each other. These movements are actually a complex series of displays that communicate pair bonds, levels of aggression, and degrees of interest among potential mates. For example, Gadwall may send warnings to each other off by lifting their chin or opening their bill at another bird. A male may seek a female’s attention by ruffling his head feathers, drawing the head close to the body, and then rearing up out of the water and pushing his head forward. Further courtship displays include the male arching his head over his back and then jerking forward while raising his tail and wing coverts; pushing his bill underwater and then quickly tossing water into the air while whistling; and rearing up while raking his bill through the water and whistling. A female may show her interest by arching her head and neck and repeatedly moving it forward and then to the side away from the male. As the pair bond strengthens, the two birds face each other and raise and lower their heads, chins up; or turn their head and place the bill behind the wing, as if preening. Courtship happens in fall and early winter; virtually all females find mates by November. Gadwall are seasonally monogamous. Predators of eggs and young include California and Ring-billed gulls, Northern Harriers, foxes, weasels, mink, coyotes, and badgers.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Gadwall populations increased by over 2.5 percent per year between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The species is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Gadwall are the third most hunted duck species (after Mallard and Green-winged Teal), with some 1.7 million of them harvested in 2010. Slightly more than 1 in every 10 ducks shot by U.S. hunters is a Gadwall. Duck harvests are carefully managed, and Gadwall numbers are still strong in part because of the conservation of both wetlands and adjacent upland nesting habitat through the Conservation Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, as well as the efforts of private conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited.

Credits

Range Map Help

Gadwall Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Medium-distance migrant. Gadwall breed mainly in the central plains of the United States and Canada, and winter mostly in the central and southern United States and throughout Mexico.

Find This Bird

Look for Gadwall on small bodies of water with plenty of aquatic vegetation; Gadwall often feed in slightly deeper water than other dabbling ducks. They associate with many other duck species, and on a quick scan you may miss the males because of their subdued brown appearance—keep an eye out for their black rear ends, white wing-patch (formed by the inner secondary feathers), and intricately patterned, not streaked or spotted, plumage.

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