Fancy like Applebee's: Alberta ducks thriving as population soars

Calgary naturalist Brian Keating was listening to a CBC Radio program Saturday morning and it got him thinking all fancy like. It was a segment on a film featuring the fancy ducks of B.C.

Naturalist Brian Keating says migratory waterfowl numbers up 56% since 1970

Ducks are thriving in Alberta, with some populations up 56 per cent over the past 50 years. (Nancy Hamoud)

Calgary naturalist Brian Keating was listening to a CBC radio program Saturday morning and it got him thinking all fancy like.

"I tuned in to Vancouver's morning CBC Radio show, North by Northwest with Sheryl MacKay, just for fun, and heard an interview with two Victoria residents, Connel Bradwell and Ryan Wilkes, about their new short film, Fancy Ducks," Keating said.

"It's five minutes of excellent filming and narration celebrating the incredible beauty of four easily-seen West Coast ducks. Two of those four we can quite easily see here in Alberta, the wood duck and pintail."

The other two can be observed here but they are harder to find.

Keating says a flip side to a global pandemic is the emergence of a "whole new crop of naturalists," so the time is right to have a look at what he calls Alberta's fancy ducks.

Bradwell and Wilkes define fancy ducks as having a bit of flair. They make you do a double take, Keating said.

We have the best ducks. Everyone says so

"We have beautiful ducks," Keating said.

"In fact, the rest of the world has serious duck envy when they look at what we have."

Keating says that in addition to having 28 duck species, Alberta is getting the reputation as a place for ducks to meet up and, um, get to know each other better.

"Our prairie habitat has been called a 'Duck Factory,' representing a serious bright light. Bird populations in Northern Alberta have decreased by about a third since 1970, but migratory waterfowl have increased by some 56 per cent over that same time period," he explained.

Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have worked with landowners to make habitat more inviting to ducks.

So what are the fancy ducks Keating is going on about?

"First on my list is the northern pintail. Both sexes have sleek necks and bodies, with the male having an impressively long, pointed tail, and he sports a blue bill on a chocolate-coloured head and neck that has a signature white stripe that gracefully extends most of the neck length. Stunning," Keating said.

Pintails can nest as far north as the Northwest Territories when the ice thaws, and can travel as far as 2,000 kilometres, migrating often at night.

"The big winner in fancy dress for the finest event is the wood duck," Keating continued.

"It is one of the world's most stunning of all waterfowl."

Calgary naturalist Brian Keating says there are two easy-to-spot species of duck in Alberta: the wood duck and the northern pintail. Pictured, however, is a harlequin duck. (Nancy Hamoud)

Keating said he spotted four male wood ducks at Calgary's Inglewood Bird Sanctuary competing for the attention of the ladies on Sunday.

"Males are iridescent green and chestnut, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather. They live in wooded swamps and amazingly, like the common goldeneye that we see on the Bow River, they nest in holes in trees and nest boxes. It is one of the few duck species that is equipped with strong claws that can grip bark," he said.

Keating says bird watching can be a matter of being in the right place at the right time, so keep your binoculars handy.

For more fascinating stories about Alberta's wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:


David Bell

Web Journalist

David Bell has been a professional, platform-agnostic journalist since he was the first graduate of Mount Royal University’s bachelor of communications in journalism program in 2009. His work regularly receives national exposure.

With files from The Homestretch


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