This lovely couple are hooded mergansers. Two pairs have made a temporary home in the pond behind our house, together with two pairs of Wigeons.

For the last five months, it seems that the only ducks around have been the lowly mallards. Many other species stay here all year, but are rarely seen. While the mallard is a good-looking duck, as ducks go, they are so commonplace that we tire of them. But in November, the rest of our migrating waterfowl finally start to reappear in numbers.

When winter arrives and all of our “snowbirds” are present, Idaho is home to 23 different species of ducks. These include two types of mergansers and goldeneyes, ringnecks, redheads, several types of teals, wigeons, gadwalls, shovelers, buffleheads, scaups and wood ducks. Since the males and females of each species sport radically different looks, that means 46 different ducks to scout out and photograph, which is an early Christmas present for me.

Most people don’t give ducks a second look, but our waterways are filled with these beautiful birds, each with a unique and sometimes stunning appearance. If you take the time to watch them, you’ll notice they are incredibly diverse, and not just in appearance.  Some dive while others dip or dabble; they make different noises, including whistles, honks, grunts, whines, and tweets, slap their wings on the water, snap their bills, chase each other around, and even sound different when they take to the air. For instance, Ernest Hemingway referred to the take-off of the Barrows Goldeneye as the sound of ripping silk or “whistler’s wings.”

When the snow falls, these colorful visitors dot the snowy banks of the Boise River like beautiful flying Christmas ornaments. Enjoy them while they are here. They will fly away next spring.