When you think of a duck, you probably imagine them on a pond or lake, freshwater, away from the ocean or sea. What if I told you that some ducks, aptly named sea ducks, actually live in coastal waters?
There are 20 species of sea ducks. These 20 can be further classified into seven groups: eiders, scoters, mergansers, goldeneyes, harlequin and long-tailed ducks, smew, and the bufflehead. Sea ducks account for 42% of all duck species in North America (though this doesn’t mean that 42% of all ducks are sea ducks).
Sea ducks have salt glands, which enable them to live in saltwater without becoming dehydrated. While sea ducks are able to live in marine waters, some do still prefer to live in freshwater rivers or lakes, such as the Great Lakes.
Most sea ducks breed in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Compared with other ducks, sea ducks have a delayed maturity and don’t breed every single year. They rely on the same area to nest year after year and will skip a year if their familiar habitat is too covered with snow and ice to be hospitable.
A typical sea duck clutch is about four to six eggs. Sea ducklings are raised out in the open, right in the Arctic waters. This leaves them more vulnerable to being preyed upon, especially by other birds, and sea ducks tend to have a lower duckling survival rate than inland ducks. However, the sea ducks who reach maturity live longer than inland ducks. Sea ducks like stable environments; they don’t adapt to change quickly. While many freshwater duck species have increased in recent decades, sea duck populations have not done so in the same way.
In fact, many species of sea ducks are undergoing declining populations in some parts of their ranges. The exact causes of this are still unknown and being investigated, but scientists warn that those who interact with these ducks need to be careful. In some areas, sea ducks are still hunted. Due to their extreme North habitat, they are more at risk from the effects of global climate change than ducks in different areas. All of these are potential reasons for their threatened status.
Next week, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the sea ducks and giving you more information about each species. I hope you’ll join us.
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