Dab­blers and divers are filling up Col­lege Lake this month, says

Owain He­garty

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREENSPACES - Is a OWAIN HE­GARTY

TO MANY peo­ple a duck is a duck is a duck, but look more closely at th­ese wild­fowl and you’ll no­tice there are sev­eral fas­ci­nat­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween dab­blers and divers.

Take the mal­lard, one of the eas­i­est birds to spot if you’re near a lake, pond or river.

They quack, wad­dle as they walk on their large webbed feet, and look very funny when they’re swimming on the wa­ter’s sur­face and sud­denly tip up.

The mal­lard is a dab­bler or pud­dle-duck that feeds on or close to the sur­face of the wa­ter.

Be­cause their feet are roughly cen­tral to their body they can tip up eas­ily, giv­ing that com­i­cal ‘duck’s tail’ as they feed on small in­sects in the un­der­wa­ter grasses and mud.

Dab­blers like the mal­lard and gad­wall, have shovel-shaped bills to help them feed.

The shov­eler is an aptly-named bird that of­ten swims in pairs, spi­ralling in one spot to stir up the mud from be­low be­fore they ‘sieve’ in­sects from the gritty de­bris.

Divers pre­fer to plunge be­low the sur­face to feed. Tufted duck and pochard are two of the divers you’ll see at Col­lege Lake.

The nar­row wings and feet of divers are set back on the bird’s body so that they’re stream­lined to swim un­der­wa­ter for fish and in­sects.

Watch them slip be­low the sur­face in one place to pop up a few min­utes later sev­eral yards away gulp­ing down their prey.

Divers usu­ally run across the sur­face of the lake as they take flight, and then come back fast, of­ten skid­ding on the wa­ter un­til they stop.

The broad wings of dab­blers give them the power for ver­ti­cal take-off, and they can land with pin­point ac­cu­racy.

Come to Col­lege Lake this win­ter and be amazed by the dab­blers, in­clud­ing teal, wigeon with their dis­tinc­tive whistling call, gad­wall, shov­eler and of course the mal­lard; and the divers, in­clud­ing pochard, which is usu­ally rest­ing on the is­lands dur­ing the day, and the tufted ducks with their piebald plumage and blue bills.

Go to bbowt.org.uk/col­lege­lake to plan your visit to this won­der­ful wildlife site.

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