In Winter, Different Kinds Of Paddlers Ply The Severn

Published: December 11, 2018

Ever think that the end of kayaking season means there are no paddlers on the river?Think again, because in late November, when human snowbirds begin leaving our area for warmer climes, other migrants are just arriving.

Flocks of waterfowl fly in from their summer breeding grounds in the Midwest, West and as far north as Canada to winter on the relatively protected waters of the Severn. Two of the most common and endearing are Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks.

Buffleheads, named for their large, bulbous shaped heads, are the smallest of the diving ducks but boast males that are among the most beautiful.

With striking black and white plumage on their sides and back, male Buffleheads have gorgeous, iridescent green and purple heads with a large and distinctive white patch that looks like a partially pulled-on swim cap.

Females are duller, but pert: greyish brown with a long, narrow white eye patch.

Like all diving ducks, Buffleheads forage underwater for their food. Primarily freshwater feeders on their breeding grounds, they become mostly coastal saltwater feeders during the winter, diving for crustaceans and mollusks, as well as aquatic plants.

They congregate in large numbers at the mouth of the river on Carr Creek and near Round Bay, but they are found the entire length of the Severn and in its coves and creeks, almost always in pairs.

Look for them, especially, around docks and in shallow water.

Ruddy Ducks love the Severn, too. Nearly as small as Buffleheads, “Ruddys” are cinnamon brown ducks with black heads and large white cheek patches.

Their most distinctive feature, though, is their stiff tail, which they can lay flat in the water or cock upright like a paintbrush.

Ruddy Ducks have flat scoop-shaped bills (bright blue in mating season) they use to strain food, including seeds and roots of aquatic plants and grasses, as well as aquatic invertebrates.

Unlike Buffleheads, with whom they readily mingle, Ruddy Ducks tend to feed at night, so you’ll most often spot them tails up, heads tucked, enjoying a nap on the water.

While populations of both ducks are much lower than historical levels due to unchecked hunting in the early 20th century and loss of habitat, neither is currently considered endangered and populations are holding fairly steady.

But to see them here, you have to get out during the winter, because by March, as with other seasonal delights, these beauties will be gone again!