Our Migrating Ducks

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Fall and spring bird migrations are exciting natural phenomenon that occur every year in all parts of the world, as it has been for millenium. Additionally, amid milder climates of the Central Valley in California, the migrating birds reside here in agricultural fields and refuge ponds for the winter.


American Wigeon, male

American Wigeon, male

From November through January there are hundreds of thousands of wintering birds here that we don’t see at other times of the year, especially ducks and geese, but also cranes and other bird varieties. The migratory route in California is called the Pacific Flyway, and the birds travel here from numerous northern locations.


Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat'l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat’l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Photographed here are a few of the ducks that we are lucky to have visit for the winter. By mid-February they will almost all be gone.


Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Ducks such as mallards and coots are here year-round, so they are not pictured here.


There are four migratory routes in North America and additional migratory routes in the eastern hemisphere. See maps below.

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

More info:

Pacific Flyway

North American migration routes

General Bird Migration


When they arrive and when they depart varies every year, depending on many factors, especially climate. The bird species also vary from year to year. Sometimes there are larger populations than other years, depending on how successful and/or brutal the year has been.


Northern Shoveler, California

Northern Shoveler, California

Like anything in nature, there are a large amount of variables and nothing is predictable. For me, that’s the true joy of nature.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Image result for bird migration flyways

World Bird Migration Flyways. Courtesy WysInfo.com


U.S. Waterfowl Flyways. Courtesy Wikipedia.


69 thoughts on “Our Migrating Ducks

  1. Ducks are so pretty and the variety is amazing. Wonderful photos. I’m hoping to capture a few nice images of those quackers today along the Texas Gulf Coast.

    • That last image of the northern shoveler is really a beauty, isn’t it, Amy? I had that one made into notecards. Thanks so much, always a pleasure to have you stop by.

    • I like hearing about your migrating ducks in CO, Mike. And yes, isn’t that flying shoveler wonderful? Athena was really pleased when she caught that. It’s from a refuge deck that has a lower level than usual decks, lower to the water, and she loves to photograph from there. Thanks so much for your comments, my friend~~

    • Ducks and geese aren’t as twitchy as songbirds and hummingbirds, fun to photograph and observe. You gave me a chuckle, Jan, with the camera-eating geese comment. Thanks so much.

    • Shovelers are such a joy to observe and photograph, and catching one in flight was a real treat. I am certain you will enjoy the wintering ducks, Shannon, as you always enjoy all the birds. Happy birding!

    • It’s a funny thing about the shovelers, and many ducks, you often do not see the colors that are embedded under the primary feathers until they take flight. Glad you enjoyed the flying shoveler, Joanne — thanks so much!

  2. What a wonderful post! Lovely photographs by Athena, and you’ve made me feel a bit guilty – in the past I’ve generally thought that a duck is a duck is a duck…oops! Thanks, Jet, for sending me further down the right path!

    • Yay! I’m so glad to hear that I opened your eyes to the duck migration, pc — it is such a fascinating process, and wonderful to be aware of. Fun to teach a teacher too! Always a pleasure~~

  3. I love the pictures. The poor shoveler looks kind of like everyone else’s goofy cousin. They always reminded me of cartoon ducks. I agree with the others that he’s beautiful in flight.

    • The shovelers have those large, spatulate bills. When I first started paying attention to the migrating ducks I found the shoveler one of the easier ones to remember because they do look a little cartoonish with that wide bill. Thanks Craig!

  4. I enjoy it when I photograph ducks, they are extremely photogenic. These birds always look elegant and sharp! I believe that you get more chances to see diverse species of ducks in the West Coast! Great post Jet! 🙂

    • We are indeed lucky out here on the west coast to see so much of the migrating ducks all winter long. I agree with you, HJ, they are elegant and sharp. And so numerous! Fun to share the post with you, HJ, as always.

  5. The migration of birds is amazing. The distances they travel is incredible. We have birds migrating from Russia and Alaska to our local creek on the Gold Coast here in Australia. Sadly, a few years ago, hundreds of shearwaters washed up on our beaches exhausted from their flight from the northern hemisphere. They were on their way to Tasmania. I felt really sad riding home from work seeing these distressed birds floating in the water and washing onto the beaches. Nonetheless many more survive and their resilience is inspiring.

    • Yes, the migration can be brutal, and some years are tougher than others for many reasons. And I agree with you, Gail, it is an amazing phenomenon and their resilience is really inspiring. I liked hearing about your migrating birds in Australia, thank you for your comment and visit.

  6. The cycle of migration is a wonder of Nature. Thanks for sharing these details and your photography of the duck species. Do you go on specific bird watching/photography trips, or are these as seen in your daily travels?

    • Hi Draco, thank you for stopping by. My partner and I have been making an annual trek to California’s Central Valley for 23 consecutive years. It’s about two hours from our house, and most years we go twice each winter. We started out years ago by going with our local Audubon group, then we went on our own (or with birding friends) when we became more familiar with the area. It’s tricky for planning purposes because it’s winter and there’s almost always heavy storms; but it is a high priority for us, and has turned into our winter tradition, so we have learned to stay loose and just take off for a few days when the opportunity is best. We also see the ducks all over the Bay Area and visit ponds, shorelines, and lakes so we do see it in our daily travels too. The fascinating thing is that every single year is so very different. Many thanks for your question, Draco, and happy winter to you. 🙂

      • Oh I am a birder of many years, now, dear Draco, so yes, I recognize every bird in my home state by sight and sound. It is a true joy. Thanks for that question, I have never had the pleasure of making such a statement in writing before. My best wishes to you~~

  7. I think its the first shot of the cinnamon teal I like best – the deep orangey red is wonderful. I like all of them of course. No matter how often I have taken photos of ducks in the past, I can’t resist taking more when the opportunity occurs. Like everything else in nature, you never tire of it.

    • You said it well, Alastair. The ducks are such a joy, and light captures them in such different ways, that one never tires of it and the photos are always different. Cinnamon teals have those red eyes which are challenging to capture. And you know how ducks tuck in when it’s cold or rainy. Always a fun challenge, eh? I agree with you, that cinnamon color is so lovely. Thank you so much for your visit.

  8. Good afternoon from London dear Jet….I have missed your posts and am delighted that the first is about ducks….I love ducks, and the first image is absolutely superb. It will take a while for me to get into new rhythms of work etc., but I am now back on board and looking forward to the New Year. I wish you and Athen a year filled with good health, happy times and much creativity….Janet:)

    • My face lit up when I saw your visit, Janet. I am glad you enjoyed your break and I appreciate that you take the breaks. I’m taking a short break in a few weeks too. It keeps us appreciative of this wonderful WP medium. I’m happy you enjoyed the ducks post, it is a winter tradition for Athena and I to visit the central valley, and it’s a pure pleasure to share it with you. My best wishes to you for a creative and joy-filled new year.

      • Thank you so much, Jet….one of these days I will surprise you and respond to your e mail….lots to tell. Enjoy the day. My new bathroom renovation began this morning….and so it’s all go, and we are expecting very cold conditions this weekend. I will be in Kent with friends that I have known since I was five years old – and I am sure lots of walks in the beautiful countryside will be in order. janet:)

      • Home renovations, especially bathroom and kitchen, are a bright and hopeful process. My best wishes for a smooth renovation, “all go.” And how wonderful to be visiting with old friends and countryside walks. Stay warm, Janet, and enjoy~~

    • Good eye, Lloyd! The sun was just right that day for capturing his green; it is not often we see it that emerald. Thanks for your visit. And thanks for taking me back to Lamington NP in your post the other day, I enjoyed it immensely.

  9. I simply love duckies! Thank you Jet 🎈
    When I was in Scotland (east of Edinburgh) migrating swans stopped by in the field in front of my Mother’s house. Now that was such a thrill!!!! They come every year, but this year was a few weeks earlier.
    I am full of awe for all creatures that migrate.

    • I, too, am full of awe for migrating creatures, Val. It is a remarkable feat. I liked hearing the story of the migrating swans in front of your mother’s house–what an incredible sight that must’ve been! Thanks so much for your great comment.

  10. Athena’s photos are spectacular, WOW! And I appreciated you posting the flyway maps, I enjoy seeing them every time I do, reminding me again of how migration is truly an awe-inspiring feat for wildlife. Can you imagine if us humans today had to do this? It would not be pretty I’m sure.

    • Thanks so much, Donna, for your appreciative comments on the duck photos and flyway maps. It is, as you say, an awe-inspiring feat for creatures of our earth, and what a joy it has been to share this with you and others. Humans these days do a fair amount of migrating, but it is definitely not so synchronized or pretty. Always a joy to have you stop by.

  11. It seems like your area is the Club Med zone for ducks & other birds. You are so very lucky!
    I have never seen a Northern Shoveler, but WoW, I would love to!

    • I love your analogy of the Club Med zone for migrating ducks, Resa! I’m glad you liked the northern shoveler, and I looked up in more detail into the Toronto area, and you’re in luck because the NS does breed there. So look for them this spring and summer, near lakes and other water sources. From a distance they are similar in colors to the mallard, so that can be confusing. Look instead for the wide, spatulate bill…and enjoy. Thanks so much.

  12. Well I think I’ve run out of words. Beautiful, pretty, gorgeous and let’s finish with freaking unbelievable photos. Yay Athena!
    We anxiously await the migration of the ducks back to us. Not that we want any to depart our way too early. They would need little ducky booties which likely are not great for swimming.

  13. As always…great captures and very informative…hope all is well with all of the rain you have been receiving..we have been in LA a couple of times since Nov and can’t believe how green the hills are…been so many years since I have seen that! Happy New Year…here’s to a great 2017!!

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the migrating ducks, Kirt. And yes, we are doing well through the storms, have endured a power outage, snow and hail, downed trees everywhere, rock and mud slides. And through it all the thrill of enormous rivers that are usually dry river beds is a joy. The abundance is fantastic. Thanks so much for your insight.

  14. Marvelous photography here. I’m envious! We get quite a few ducks and herons and egrets here in the cow pastures that flood during the winter rains. They are so colorful and fun to see!

    • Bird and animal migration really is an incredible phenomenon, I’m glad I could share our northern California migrating birds with you, Nan. As always, a joy to hear from you. ♥

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