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Wild About Utah: Mallard musings

Dogs on the river side watching mallard ducks swim in the river
Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

The Bear River Mountains near the Utah/Idaho border are the headwaters of the Logan River, which flows southwest through Logan Canyon, works its way westward through Logan and converges with the Little Bear and Bear River about 5 miles west of town. All three rivers are halted by Cutler Dam to form Cutler Reservoir. The Bear River exits the dam which continues southwest and drains into the Great Salt Lake. The portion of the Great Salt Lake where the Bear River drains is managed by the federal Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge which holds spectacular opportunities to view some of nature’s most stunning birds.

With a lovely visitor’s center and an auto tour route, even an inexperienced outdoorsman is likely to have a magnificent adventure observing birds interacting in an unmolested manner, unpressured by many elements of human development. If you haven’t ventured there, I recommend doing so and I suggest starting your journey at the visitor’s center near Brigham City.

However, this segment is not about the fantastical birds at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Instead, it’s about a bird that many people see daily, and like me, have drifted through years of life without appreciating their beauty or their behavior.

My back yard abuts the Logan River as it gently meanders through Logan, UT and my two Labrador Retrievers and I spend many sunny hours sitting in a lawn chair by its banks, enjoying the sound of water and wildlife that call this river-way home. Along with the typical presence of the Black-Capped Chickadees, Belted Kingfishers, American Robins, and Mourning Doves, the stunning green-headed Mallard Duck is a daily companion; one I have grown quite fond of. Often moving in pairs, these boisterous ducks go up and down the river.

Mallard ducks on the river-side
Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Sometimes they are flying, one way or the other, wings gliding but six inches off the top of the water. My wet tongued friends are always first to alert me of the flying passers when their heads pop up and ears prick alert. It seems like a dance for the ducks, as one launches from the water for no apparent reason, luring the others to follow. They fly but 50 yards up or down and raucously splash back into the water. No doubt, it seems that a hen is always leading the charge with one, or multiple, green heads following her around.

Other times these ducks are bobbling along on the water this way or that. On their way downstream, they seem to stay in the middle and just bounce in the current like a bobber bobs on windy ripples. But on their way upstream, the perfectly camouflaged birds blend into the twigs and boulders on the bank as they pick their way along the side eddies and dabble as they go, heads down and butts erect, foraging for any aquatic insect or vegetation they may find nestled in the stones and debris along the riverbed.

These ducks don’t just stay in the waterway, and often frequent the yards along the river. When on land, these Mallards engage in a game of tag that seems both exhausting and exciting. The drakes seem to chase anything that comes their way, whether it is another drake or a hen. With obvious intentions, the game seems to escalate in the late winter/early spring months as the greenheads become vehemently passionate. These courtship rituals are quite a fascinating site to behold.

So thank you Mallards, for my time by the river just wouldn’t be the same without you to keep me company, and to stir observation and reflection.

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Fall Migration at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge-Courtesy & Copyright Brian W. Ferguson, Photographer, Used by Permission
All other images, as marked, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/, Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections and J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin. https://upr.org/
Text: Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski & Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/

Mallard, Ducks Unlimited, https://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id/mallard

Mallard Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/overview#

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/bear-river-migratory-bird

About Logan, Logan City, UT, https://www.loganutah.org/visitors/about_logan/index.php

Leavitt, Shauna, The Ecology in and around the Logan River, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/the-ecology-in-and-around-the-logan-river/

Joseph Kozlowski PhD, is a teacher and researcher at Edith Bowen Laboratory School. He is passionate about incorporating innovative mathematics and computer science education strategies into his classroom, and using those experiences to guide his research work. Additionally, he draws from his rural upbringing in Wyoming to inform his implementation of experiential and outdoor education. He is humbled and honored to be a contributor to UPR's Wild About Utah!