What to watch for in October: Ducks and Native Plants for Birds
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon
Nice Day for Ducks
There are several expressions in the English language based on ducks. Many elected officials will be “lame ducks” after election day. The idiom “sitting duck” refers to the fact that, when ducks molt, there is a period of time where they can’t fly so they are vulnerable to predation. If you have ever seen ducklings following their mother, “getting your ducks in a row” makes sense. Ducks waterproof their feathers with oil from a preen gland close to their tails, and so water just beads up and slides off. If someone is unaffected by criticism it is just “water off the duck’s back” to him. If we get a day of rainy weather at least we can say it is a “nice day for ducks”.
Whether October brings fall rains or not, it will bring ducks. They will hitch rides south on the north winds. When you are walking around Lady Bird Lake or other Central Texas waterways – even retention ponds – keep an eye out for all the waterfowl that are coming to spend the colder months with us. Many of these birds are hunted, so they will take flight if you get too close. Move slowly and try to stay out of sight for the best views.
Some of the duck species that are arriving now, usually courtesy of a cold front, include American Wigeon, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup. American Wigeon has an interesting nickname, “bald pate” due to the male’s white crown that really stands out.
Here’s a short duck lesson, courtesy of The Sibley Guide to Birds: Gadwall and Wigeon are known as dabbling ducks. They generally stay on the water’s surface and “dabble” their bills in the water to snag food. They also upend themselves to feed a little deeper, but they generally don’t dive down and disappear completely.
Diving ducks do dive down to find food, disappearing and reappearing sometimes a distance away. Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup are among the divers. When they’re on land, they’re pretty awkward because their legs are positioned farther back on their bodies for maximum efficiency in the water. When they fly from the water, they need a running start. Dabbling ducks can fly directly out of the water. Ring-necked Ducks are one of those curiously named birds. New birders often call them, logically, “ring-billed ducks” due to the distinctive white ring around the bill on both the male and female. You have to look hard to see the maroon ring around the neck of a male bird.
Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup look somewhat similar. Visit All About Birds to compare them. Ring-necked Ducks are often seen on Austin-area shallow retention ponds that have marshy vegetation, while other diving ducks seem to prefer larger and deeper bodies of water. Some of the best spots in Austin to see ducks are Lady Bird Lake and the area below Longhorn Dam, and the Mueller Community pond across from the Morris Williams Golf Course at 3851 Manor Road.
Plant a Native Plant and Feed a Bird
Fall is our second spring, when plants that were dormant all summer come back to life, with many of them blooming. Planting native plants is one of the best things you can do for birds and pollinators. Exactly what is a native? The USDA defines a native plant as
“A plant that is a part of the balance of nature that has developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem. Note: The word native should always be used with a geographic qualifier (that is, native to New England [for example]). Only plants found in this country before European settlement are considered to be native to the United States.” Providing native plants is the sustainable way to feed the birds – no bird feeders required.
An easy to grow native is Plateau Goldeneye. A drive west on FM 2222 from Mopac to Loop 360 can be a visual delight in October, with the yellow daisy-like flowers of Plateau Goldeneye on display. This fall bloomer tolerates dry soil, and blooms best in part shade. Lesser Goldfinches love to eat its foliage, and when the flowers go to seed, they will be first in line for the feast. Plateau Goldeneye is a host plant for the Bordered Patch butterfly, and attracts other pollinators, many of which are prey for birds.
Where can you find this plant? Check your local specialty nursery or visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Fall Plant Sale running Friday-Sunday from September 30 through October 30. Check the Travis Audubon plant list for other bird-friendly natives that might work well where you garden. Remember, in central Texas the best time to plant perennials is in the fall.
Upcoming Travis Audubon Events – Check the events calendar for upcoming events, field trips and classes. Most field trips are free and require reservations. Classes are fee based.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer