Rumors of ducks’ demise is greatly exaggerated
If you’ve been following the news stories about how badly this winter has been affecting ducks that have wintered (or not) on the Great Lakes, you’d think there wouldn’t be any left to repopulate the species this spring.
Through the winter, news organizations breathlessly trumpeted the increasing ice cover on the Great Lakes, with each headline adding a few more percentage points to the amount of water covered over. Then came published observations about diving ducks landing on roadways, supposedly because they couldn’t find open water in which to land and feed. Then other reporters upped the ante when New York’s equivalent to the Department of Natural Resources reported counting thousands fewer ducks this winter in the Niagara River between Lakes Erie and Ontario. The same story quoted a Chicagoan who said he had collected 30 dead ducks over a few days along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Other publications carried stories of people finding dead waterfowl along other frozen Great Lakes beaches.
Wouldn’t it make sense that we’d be seeing fewer ducks in places on the Great Lakes that were frozen this year, but not last year? Is it possible that the birds moved to ice-free areas well south of here? And might that same Chicagoan who found 30 dead birds this year have found that many or more last year, depending on which way the wind was blowing?
Yes, some ducks died this winter. And yes, ducks sometimes do land on roadways during periods of poor visibility. This happens every year. If they’re diving ducks, most of which are not equipped to take flight from solid ground, they can and do get hit by automobiles and become easy targets for predators.
In some areas, the waterfowl mortality may be slightly greater than it has been in recent years when we’ve experienced mild winters.
If communities all around Lake Michigan call in front-end loaders this spring to clean up thousands of dead ducks washing up on the beach, then perhaps we could print the headlines in larger type. Until then, let’s give the ducks some credit for being able to find open water beyond the Great Lakes.