Getting High (Not)

Greater Scaup female (Aythya marila)

Preening your breast feathers is hard to do when you’re floating in the water. You could rise up and flap your wings and get a little air on your chest that way. But to really give them a cleaning you need to get high and get dry. This female Scaup works hard to get up a slippery stone, and seems to have succeeded. But then a male comes by and drives her off her hard-won perch. She dips her head twice, seemingly in annoyance, and flaps her wings. Then the bullying male tries his luck at climbing the slippery stone, and fails totally; he can’t hang on for even a minute. The female gives up on finding a dry perch and settles for a submerged stone where she can bill her breast feathers for a few seconds between wave crests. Meanwhile an American Coot looks on from a high and dry perch. The coot has far more versatile feet. They’re set farther forward on its body and its toes can articulate independently. The duck has webbed feet set far back on its bulk; they’re good for swimming and diving but poorly adapted for land mobility. The occasional scaup, as we’ve seen, can manage to get up on a rock for a nap and a sun bath, but it’s a lot of work, and not many try it. Coots, by contrast, can easily take to land and graze on a lawn like a big flock of chickens. That’s because coots are not ducks, and they resent the confusion.

Greater Scaup female (Aythya marila)

More about scaup: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon In Chavez Park

More about coots: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon In Chavez Park

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