Scientific name: Anas strepera
Nicknames: gray duck
Claim to fame: There are no definitive numbers to prove it, but gadwalls could very well be the “most hunted” duck species in southwest Missouri. Mallards may get all the publicity, but gadwalls fly through this part of the state in large numbers in the fall and winter and, as a result, get much of the hunting pressure.
Species status: Thanks to improved conservation efforts in recent decades in their nesting and breeding grounds, North America’s gadwall population is considered stable.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the gadwall was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Family matters: Gadwall belong to the bird family Anatidae, a collection of species commonly known as waterfowl or, more specifically; the swans, geese and ducks. Within this family, gadwall belong to the subfamily Anatinae, a group commonly called marsh ducks or dabbling ducks. Dabbling ducks jump upward when taking flight and feed primarily on the surface of shallow water or by “tipping up.”
Length: 19 inches to 23 inches
Diet: A gadwall’s diet primarily consists of aquatic vegetation, aquatic invertebrates and seeds. They can also be found in fields feeding on grain or sometimes in woodlands feeding on acorns.
Weight: 17 to 37 ounces
Distinguishing characteristics: The gadwall’s nickname “gray duck” does the duck’s appearance a disservice, particularly in the spring when the male’s markings are accentuated for courtship and breeding purposes. Although from a distance, the male appears to be gray, a closer inspection of this bird in spring reveals that it actually has an intricate — and attractive — herringbone-like pattern. The female has a similar, though more speckled, pattern. (The female resembles a hen mallard.) The male gadwall’s bill is black while the female’s is more orangish.
Life span: A banded gadwall was known to have reached 19 years of age.
Habitat: Gadwalls prefer marshes, sloughs, ponds and small lakes with grasslands in both fresh and brackish water as breeding habitat. They tend to be more abundant on small prairie marshes than in deep marshes, open-water marshes or large lakes.
Life cycle: Pairs of adult birds will bond in the middle to late fall; immature birds will pair by mid-winter. The breeding season will vary, but usually occurs from May through mid-July in the northern Great Plains and central prairie regions of the United States and southern Canada. A female will lay a clutch of seven to 13 eggs at the rate of one egg per day. The average incubation period lasts 26 days. The young hatch and are led by their mother from the vulnerable nest area to the brood-rearing habitat. There, the ducklings obtain their own food. The female will raise the brood for no more than 10 weeks and will then abandon the young.