NEW Zoo ducks are animals of the month
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – A sure sign of longer and warmer days can be seen paddling peacefully inside the aviary at the NEW Zoo.
Ducks at the zoo are this month’s Animals of the Month and right now is the best time to pay them a visit as their plumage colors are getting brighter and brighter.
The NEW Zoo has nearly 30 ducks comprised of eight different species.
“These guys, they’re all native species in this climate,” said Becky Jahns, zookeeper. “We can have them year round and highlight the species. These ones are a little more fancy than the mallards you have about.”
Ducks are broken down into two main types: the divers and dabblers.
Divers head below the surface of the water for food and dabblers stick their duck butts into the air in search of food that isn’t as deep.
Some of the divers include the mergansers and the redheads.
Because they need to go deep for feed, the divers are heavy bodied birds that need lots of room to get enough speed to fly.
The dabblers include the green-winged teals and the wood ducks.
These birds have feet located in the center of their bodies and they can fly with little space. They enjoy krill-like organisms. For Jahns, the ducks belong at the NEW Zoo, because they all are pretty, look different and have unique traits.
It doesn’t help that they share the aviary with Sierra, the bald eagle, because lots of people tend to not pay the ducks much attention on their way to see the big bird.
But Sierra is a rescue bird and is unable to fly. So the ducks remain safe throughout the year.
Arguably the top duck, Knightrider, a male goldeneye, keeps half the pond to himself and two green-winged teals.
“It made my day,” Jahns said of Knightrider. “We had a little girl in here who pulled me aside and said ‘He’s my favorite because he has a pretty head.’”
All the ducks are named after TV shows and movies. Each species has a different character name so zookeepers can tell them apart.
There’s a group for “How I Met Your Mother,” the Harry Potter movies, Disney movies, and “The Dukes of Hazard,” to name a few.
On the other side of the pond, the two wood ducks like to sit up high on rocks and keep an eye on the habitat.
For ducks, their habitat is vital.
With nearly 20 duck species that call Wisconsin home for part of the year, there is a delicate balance with wetlands.
Simply diverting wetlands could change water levels and not give divers the proper space to find food.
Wetlands also help keep lakes and rivers clean, Jahns said.
“I like to call it wildlife Jenga,” she said. “You can only take out so many pegs before everything crashes.”
Jahns said the past 100 years have not been kind to the preferred duck habitat.
“Wetlands are going away pretty darn quick,” she said. “ We lost 50 to 90 percent in the area.”
Wisconsin is also a major migration hub for the birds.
“Here in Wisconsin we’re part of the Mississippi Flyway, so we get three million ducks migrating through here,” Jahns said.
The divers tend to migrate further south than the dabblers who will settle for any open water.
Luckily for visitors to the NEW Zoo, none of the ducks can fly and right now their plumage is only getting brighter.
“I feel like ducks are underappreciated,” Jahns said. “They’re very pretty birds.”