March "Madness"



This past weekend’s weather was wonderful, so I took the opportunity to go out to “my” pond and wetland area on the southeast edge of Iowa City. I love March at the wetland since it is a staging area for one of the biggest songbird and waterfowl “conventions” of the year as they gather to meet, mix, and mingle before they complete their journeys north. The ducks, geese, songbirds, ground birds, and raptors are all decked out in their breeding plumage and the colors and patterns are spectacular! Even more interesting is the seemingly nutty behavior of the male rivals and the paired-off couples as they execute their mating dances and postures in efforts to attract or keep their chosen one. It is wonderfully interesting and hilarious to watch.

Buffleheads, little sea ducks that stop over briefly in Iowa on their way north, are some of my favorite. I was out observing for more than two hours and was treated to some free entertainment. I loved the male bufflehead duck’s head-bobbing routines: he pumped his head up and down several times in a jerky, almost mechanical way, rushed at his opponent chasing him off, and then rapidly dipped his head and neck down in the water a few times before raising almost fully out of the water and flapping his wings wildly. After this show, he puffed out the feathers on the back of his head to make it look larger and moved his head and neck in a big arc, stretching way back until he touched the back of his head to his rump. Then—bill pointing skyward and quacking all the while—he swung his head forward so far that he nearly dipped it in the water in front of him. He repeated this again and again in full view of the female he was wooing. These outrageous moves, plus his splendid plumage (sharp black swaths accenting a clean, crisp white body), apparently did the trick since the female swam away with him to a nook at the edge of the pond. This is just one of the many springtime scenes provided by dozens of bird species during March madness days out on the wetland.

Diane Baker
Director of Alumni Travel

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