Wood ducks: Epitome of beauty

Print edition : November 20, 2020

Wood ducks are widely distributed in the U.S. The ones featured here were photographed in four locations in Texas, U.S. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A Female WOOD DUCK with ducklings. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

These birds look like they are whispering to each other. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A male wood duck, easily recognisable by the iridescent green feathers of its head and brightly patterned body. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A female wood duck; the females are not as brightly coloured as the males. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A juvenile wood duck. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A family outing. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

These birds were once killed for their meat and feathers. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

After a swim, this male is looking to take off. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

The enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the U.S. in 1918 paved the way for the way for the protection of these and other birds in the country. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A wood duck pair. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A male putting on a display of its colourful feathers. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A male stretching. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A male vocalising. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

A male preening. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

In 1934, the Migratory Birds Hunting Stamp Act came into force in the U.S.; it enables the government to raise funds for environmental protection by selling stamps. The sale of duck stamps has raised a lot of money for conservation over the years. Photo: Vineeth Radhakrishnan

Vineeth Radhakrishnan. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Wood ducks are one of the most well-recognised and celebrated species of waterfowl in the U.S. Once threatened with extinction, they are now abundant in the country thanks to concerted conservation efforts over the years.

“LOOK at those stunning birds. They are called wood ducks and are a shimmering spectacle of colours. Their plumage is ornate. The male bird is easily recognisable. It is the epitome of beauty. But the female is dull. Local people say that the male bird looks as if it is in bridal dress; it is so captivating.” A teacher was talking to a group of schoolchildren who were members of a nature club on a visit to Landa Park in New Braunfels, Texas, United States. All the students had binoculars. Some had cameras. Others drew the ducks with crayons or painted them. All of them were enthusiastic.

Wood ducks are widely distributed in the U.S. The lake at the park was one of the four locations in Texas where Vineeth Radhakrishnan photographed the wood duck. The other three were Mills Pond in Austin, White Rock Lake in north-east Dallas and an unnamed swamp.
Also view: The Upper Nilgiris

Millions of birdwatchers

Birding is the biggest pastime in the U.S. for all age groups. There are millions of birdwatchers in the country, but the activity is largely dominated by men. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in its 2016 survey report: “Of all the wildlife in the United States, birds attracted the biggest following. Approximately 45.1 million people observed birds around the home and on trips in 2016.”

Wood ducks are one of the most well-recognised and most gorgeous and celebrated waterfowl species in the U.S. Once threatened with extinction owing to hunting and habitat loss, the birds were able to survive because the U.S. government passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, which protects wood ducks too as they used to migrate to Mexico and Canada. Its implementation was effective and impartial, and coupled with people’s participation gradually, it proved successful. In the past 50 years, nature clubs and environmental protection societies have sprung up as have birding clubs that have all given momentum to nature protection. Different courts have also played a crucial role with landmark judgments. Now wood ducks are abundant in the U.S.
Also view: The Sarus Crane

Joseph Ginnell

Joseph Grinnell (1897-1935) is a name to be remembered in the cause of wood duck protection. He was a field biologist and zoologist and in 1901 voiced concern and mobilised public opinion to save the wood duck and other waterfowl from being hunted. Market hunters were in their heyday. The ducks were shot and sold for their meat. Grinnell had an untiring zeal for conservation, and people slowly began to rally round him. A demonstration he staged in California garnered him a lot of public support. As the editor of The Condor, a magazine published by the Cooper Ornithological Club, from 1906 to 1939, he spread the message of nature protection. In due course, legislators got involved, and this ultimately paved the way for the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is hailed as the first legal document in the world that protects waterfowl. The Act made unlawful the hunting, capturing, possession of, killing, selling, export, import of migratory birds a punishable offence. Mexico, Japan and Russia were inspired by the Act to pass similar Acts.
Also read: Use of telemetry tracking to learn about a florican

Many judicial decisions in subsequent years in the U.S. quoted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as a landmark one for environmental protection. In 1934, the Migratory Birds Hunting Stamp Act came into force, which enables the government to raise funds for environmental protection by selling stamps. In subsequent years, the U.S. has witnessed globally renowned environmental movements and legislation.

G. Shaheed is Chief of Legal and Environment News Bureau of Mathrubhumi, Kochi.

Vineeth Radhakrishnan, a software engineer from Kerala based in Texas since 2014, is a passionate wildlife photographer specialising in birds.