Last post I mentioned that many ducks become floaters come winter, dying from starvation. What is just a nuisance for us humans…
becomes a death sentence for ducks. The problem has been a bitterly cold winter around the Great Lakes region. February was the coldest in recorded history for our area. Cold equals ice and ice is found on the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan is covered 80.4%, Lake Huron 90.9%, Lake Superior 90.3%, Lake Erie 95.9% and Lake Ontario, a deep lake, 53.6% covered in ice by March 5th. (source)
If ducks stay through winter or arrive here from somewhere else, many must dive for their food and with little open water that creates a problem. Necropsy revealed just how horrid the situation had become. Birds studied had their stomachs filled with feathers all the way down through their intestines.
Others feeding on zebra mussels had toxic levels of selenium in their bodies, but most, their stomachs were empty. This is not unexpected, because each winter some ducks will perish without finding enough food. But is has been especially bad this year and last.
The affected ducks are the diver ducks, like greater and lesser scaup, redheads, goldeneye, canvasbacks, buffleheads, and red-breasted mergansers.
Most of the deceased birds collected for study were red-breasted mergansers, ducks whose small mouths can only eat small fish, like minnows that live in shallower waters.
The waters in the shallows have been frozen solid for weeks, and the Niagara River has had ice up to 100 yards off shore, creating a shelf where minnows could hide.
Although Lake Erie was largely frozen over, some open water remained on the Niagara River throughout winter. Lake Ontario is a much deeper body of water and was largely open.
While at Dunkirk Harbor on Lake Erie, I saw so many floating or frozen in place ducks, much more than I did last year. Photographers were commenting that there was far less ducks in the harbor. Less available food is likely why. They asked where I have been seeing a large number of ducks and I mentioned I live along the Niagara River where ducks numbered in the thousands. Like I mentioned above, the river is frozen well off shore and it appears many of the ducks are in distress. I shot all these images on Grand Island, which lies in the middle of the river, the West River on one side, the East River on the other. Flocks of ducks have been visible most of the winter. Right now, the Grand Island ducks are well off shore.
I also told the photographers that I have been seeing young eagles in and on the river ice here in Niagara. The increase in eagles is likely because of the number of dead, dying, or distressed ducks since ice does impede their fishing.