Waterfowl & Wading Birds
Ducks have been a part of human life for as long as history has been written. They are a delight to behold, exhibiting a wide variety of colors, patterns, shapes and sizes. They also have an endearing, humorous nature, their endless vocabulary of whistles, hoots, quacks and wheezes, their ungainly waddling on land and the up-ending dives of some species. Many of America’s favorite fictional characters have been ducks, from Donald to Daffy, and they’ve even found their way into the mascot business. Few can say they haven’t taken the time to go to a local pond and feed the ducks, simply because it made them smile.
Ducks have also had a long standing role in agriculture and commerce. They have long been hunted and domesticated for their feathers, meat and eggs. While hunting practices at one time were uncontrolled and dangerous, driving many species to the brink of extinction, modern hunting groups have been at the forefront of waterfowl conservation, protecting game populations to ensure the future generations can enjoy hunting. The Wood Duck is an excellent example. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Wood Duck’s numbers had dropped dramatically, putting it at risk of extinction. This particular duck has been considered by some to be the most beautiful of the ducks, and a popular hunting quarry for both meat and for its beautiful feathers. It was decided that a limit must be placed on seasonal takes and steps must be taken to protect the ducks’ habitat and provide extra nesting boxes so that the population could strengthen. Through the combined effort of government, law enforcement agencies, land owners and hunting groups the Wood Duck is now once again a common species.
Wading birds include the storks, herons, egrets, bitterns and ibises. They are typically long-legged, long necked birds which hunt in shallow water for fish, frogs and invertebrates. They range in size from the small Green Heron, which is only about the size of a crow, to the Marabou Stork, which is tied with the Andean Condor for the largest wingspan of any bird. The Stork has long been tied to folklore in many countries, ranging from harbingers of luck and deliverers of babies, ferrying of good souls to happier places to being ill omens. They are impressive in flight, with broad, soaring wings and long, graceful necks and their careful, methodical gait through the water as they hunt is both eerie and majestic.
Wading birds are carnivores, eating a wide variety of fish, frogs, shellfish and aquatic bugs. They employ many different feeding tactics, from simply snapping down on their prey with powerful bills, to spearing unsuspecting prey; they have even been observed using a type of “fishing lure”, by dropping a bit of bait or a feather onto the water’s surface in order to draw unsuspecting fish to them. Because of the many different ways they hunt, it is believed that wading birds, Herons especially, are amongst the smartest birds.
The Wetland Preserve & Waterfowl Pond
The most recent addition to the Center for Wildlife Education is the Wetland Preserve. Twelve acres of land on the Georgia Southern University campus were reclaimed and converted into a wetland preserve, with several distinct habitats for guests to explore. This habitat is full of native wildlife, including wild fauna and rehabilitated birds.
At the Waterfowl pond, you’ll be greeted by over fifteen species of native ducks, from the plainly colored Mottled Duck to the ornately patterned Wood Duck. This pond habitat is also home to many species of frogs, crayfish and insects, and exhibits an established natural food chain. It’s a common sight to see our Hooded Mergansers displaying natural hunting behaviors and snatching up prey from beneath the water’s surface in their serrated bills. This habitat is also a frequent stopover for local wild birds, everything from songbirds to Great Egret.
Deeper into the preserve you will find the cypress pond, a restored natural wetland common to our area, with well-established trees and swamp grasses and a copious amount of native wildlife. In this habitat you may possibly encounter wood storks, a great blue heron, a little blue heron and often times several ducks. As our collection is free-roaming, sometimes our ducks decide to visit the cypress pond to play in the reeds!