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Wild About Birds - Illinois Waterfowl!

Waterfowl are aquatic, swimming birds. Ducks, geese and swans are waterfowl. 

These birds stay near a water source throughout the year. They use the water for shelter from land-based predators, and they feed in the water, although some of them also search for and eat food a long distance from water. Because there is such variety in these birds, their diets are varied, too. Foods include aquatic plants, aquatic invertebrates, fishes, land-based plants, acorns and waste grain.

A few waterfowl nest and raise their young in Illinois, although the majority of these birds travel much farther north to do so. Breeding occurs in the spring. The nest is placed near water, often along the bank of a lake or stream. The young birds are precocial and leave the nest soon after hatching from the eggs. They can walk, swim and feed as they follow their parents.

Waterfowl have powerful flight muscles and can travel long distances as they migrate. Migration is a regular, annual movement from one area to another. In North America, waterfowl fly from their breeding grounds in the north to more southern locations where open water and food are easier to find in winter. Some waterfowl do stay in areas where the water freezes over for some time, and in those places, these birds often take shelter on the ice at night and when they are not feeding during the day. They fly to fields away from the ice to find food. They will move farther south when their food supply declines and/or weather conditions worsen. Other waterfowl species are permanent residents where they live because food and open water are available all year.

Illinois is a part of the Mississippi Flyway that waterfowl in the central United States and Canada travel each year. There are four flyways in the United States as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for purposes of management and hunting regulations.

Illinois is a very water-rich state. The Mississippi River, Illinois River, Ohio River, many smaller rivers, wetlands, Lake Michigan, other large lakes, ponds and swamps all provide habitat for waterfowl species. As they migrate, waterfowl species can feed and rest on these bountiful resources in our state. November is a prime month for observing these birds as they travel through Illinois.

Family and Species Gallery

Kingdom: Animalia - Animals are multicellular organisms that rely on other organisms for nourishment. There cells do not have cell walls. Most animals are capable of movement at least in some portion of their life cycle. Reproduction is generally sexual, but in some animals asexual reproduction may be utilized at certain times.

Phylum: Chordata - The Phylum Chordata contains the vertebrate animals. Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes are included in this phylum. These animals have a notochord at some point in their development. They have a tubular nerve cord along the back. Gill slits and a tail are present at some point in their life cycle. They have an internal skeleton.

Class: Aves - Birds are the only organisms with feathers. They are endotherms, maintaining a nearly constant body temperature. They have a hard bill but no teeth. A gizzard, which functions to grind food, is present in the digestive tract. Fertilization is internal. A nest is built in which the hard-shelled eggs are deposited and incubated.

Order: Anseriformes - Waterfowl are medium-sized, aquatic birds with small legs. These birds are adapted for their aquatic life by having webbed feet (for movement), down feathers (for warmth), oily feathers (to prevent them from getting wet) and a wide bill with a fringed edge (for straining food).

Family: Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Swans) - Swans, geese, ducks, mergansers and whistling ducks have an aquatic lifestyle. The body is covered with down feathers for added warmth. Three of the toes are webbed to help with swimming. These birds have a medium- to large-sized body and average-sized legs (except for the long-legged swans and geese). The bill is flattened and has a tooth-like fringe on its edge to help strain food from the water. The wings are narrow.
     black-bellied whistling-duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
     snow goose Anser caerulescens
     Ross's goose Anser rossii
     greater white-fronted goose Anser albifrons
     brant Branta bernicla
     cackling goose Branta hutchinsii
     Canada goose Branta canadensis
     mute swan Cygnus olor
     trumpeter swan Cygnus buccinator
     tundra swan Cygnus columbianus
     wood duck Aix sponsa
     blue-winged teal Spatula discors
     cinnamon teal Spatula cyanoptera
     northern shoveler Spatula clypeata
     gadwall Mareca strepera
     Eurasian wigeon Mareca penelope 
     American wigeon Mareca americana
     mallard Anas platyrhynchos
     American black duck Anas rubripes
     mottled duck Anas fulvigula
     northern pintail Anas acuta
     green-winged teal Anas crecca
     canvasback Aythya valisineria
     redhead Aythya americana
     ring-necked duck Aythya collaris
     greater scaup Aythya marila
     lesser scaup Aythya affinis
     king eider Somateria spectabilis
     Harlequin duck Histrionicus histrionicus
     surf scoter Melanitta perspicillata
     white-winged scoter Melanitta deglandi
     black scoter Melanitta americana
     long-tailed duck Clangula hyemalis
     bufflehead Bucephala albeola  
     common goldeneye Bucephala clangula
     Barrow's goldeneye Bucephala islandica
     hooded merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
     common merganser Mergus merganser
     red-breasted merganser Mergus serrator
     ruddy duck Oxyura jamaicensis