A highlight of observing birds during the winter at Greenwich
Point Park is viewing the variety of waterfowl that float, dabble
and dive in the waters just off shore. While a few Black Ducks,
Mallards and Canada Geese are here year round, many more
ducks, geese, loons and grebes spend their summers in northern
lakes throughout Canada and only visit Long Island Sound for
the colder part of the year.
Canadian Goose Cousin
The Brant (Branta bernicla) is one example often seen among the rocks in the water at either end of the beach. This small cousin of the Canada Goose with a 48-inch wing-span is frequently found in groups, close to shore feeding on vegetation. Its favored food of eelgrass has been in short supply since the 1930's when disease wiped out most of this marine plant along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The result was a crash in the Atlantic Brant population. Fortunately, the birds diet adapted to include sea lettuce, cord grass and cultivated grass which resulted in their population rebounding. In the mid-1970s, severe winters contributed to another decline, but by the early 1990s the numbers had again bounced back.
Diving vs Dabbling Ducks
Other common waterfowl around the Point include Common Goldeneye, Red-Breasted and Hooded Mergansers, and Bufflehead, all of which dive to get their food. Of all diving ducks, the Long-tailed Duck (formerly Oldsquaw) spends the most time under water, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, staying submerged foraging three to four times as much as it is on top of the water. In contrast, dabbling ducks like Mallards and Black Ducks are nearly always on the surface and simply tip themselves over with tails in the air to eat. Consequently the dabbling ducks are often found closer to shore.
Winter 2010 Newsletter
Winter Birds at Greenwich Point
By Cynthia Ehlinger
Photo by Debra Bender