Avian winter visitors

This was a tough winter for living aboard our sailboat – the harbor froze over; it was unusually cold and snowy for the Pacific NW; and the short days were a bit depressing at times – but we made some great friends and, being amateur bird nerds, we really enjoyed all the wintering avian visitors – harlequin ducks, long-tailed ducks in their winter plumage, American widgeons, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, and hooded mergansers. Here are a few pictures we took on one glorious sunny day in January:

American Widgeons:

Widgeons and Rainer
American widgeons with Mt Rainer in the distance

These birds breed in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories south to Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. Winters on Pacific Coast from Vancouver Island to Mexico as well as on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. They feed on bottom vegetation, dabbling in shallow water.

Bufflehead: BuffleheadThis is the smallest North American duck. They lay their eggs in tree-holes (such as woodpeckers make) in the boreal forest. Winters on Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Common Goldeneye: GoldeneyeThis diving duck also nests in tree cavities in coniferous forests of northern North America, but mainly East of the Rockies, and also in Eurasia. Winters from SE Alaska to California and the Gulf Coast.

Long-tailed Duck: Longtailed duck breeding plumageThis is actually a picture of a long-tailed duck in summer plumage, taken in the Arctic Ocean. Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of the one we saw this winter in its winter plumage (which is rather prettier) in Washington State. This bird is circumpolar in its breeding range; in the Western Hemisphere, it breeds mainly in the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan and Canadian tundra. Winters south to Washington State, feeding on mussel beds.

Harlequin ducks: Harlequin ducks

These ducks build down-lined grass nests hidden among boulders. They breed in Baffin Island, Greenland, Iceland, and in the mountains of North America from Alaska to California to Wyoming, and in Eastern Siberia. They are also year-round residents of certain spots along British Columbia’s coast. They winter on the Pacific Coast and their diet consists of snails, chitons, and crabs.

Western Grebe: Western grebeThis is the largest North American grebe. Breeds on large lakes from British Columbia to Southern California and east to Lake Winnipeg. Winters from BC down to Mexico on the coast. Both sexes look alike year-round and both sexes care for young in floating nests among reeds.

14 thoughts on “Avian winter visitors

  1. Interesting collection of waterfowl. We’ve been to most of those places you mentioned between Alaska and Greenland but have not been lucky enough to see any of these species.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Robin. We were excited to see all of these – it turns out Port Angeles is a great place to spot wintering ducks! The only ones we’ve seen on their summer nesting grounds are the oldsquaws and harlequins.

  2. Thanks for your posts. I always enjoy them. The pictures are beautiful and your information is great. Best of luck to the two of you. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. Thank you for sharing these glimpses of your feathered neighbors. Birds are such fascinating creatures.

  4. Greetings bird nerds!!! Lovely post! Beautiful pics and descriptions!

  5. Lovely read while sipping my coffee, thank you! 🙂

  6. I am going to share these gorgeous photos with my birder friends from Montana/Mexico!
    Love being on your list!

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