Living near a farm pond has many blessings. Wintering ducks are arriving. One day this week, I watched a flock of about 30 gadwalls come in to the pond. They came in small groups over about 10 minutes. I also have had redheads, wood ducks, lesser scaup and northern shovelers already this fall.
Gadwalls are relatively plain ducks, roughly the same size as mallards. The head is large, square with a steep forehead.
Males are gray brown with a distinctive black rump. That black patch is the best way to identify them. Sometimes the white secondary is visible on the sides. The males have a black bill. While at first glance they appear drab, a closer glance reveals a mottled brown breast with beautiful golden-brown feathers with silver tips tertials. In flight the belly is white.
The females are patterned brown and buff with a white patch near the tail. Female gadwalls can be distinguished from mallard females by their white belly. Their bills have a thin orange edge around a lighter bill.
Both male and females have white secondaries with black greater secondary coverts that are easy to see in flight.
They are dabbling ducks, tipping forward with their tails up feeding on submerged vegetation. Because aquatic vegetation is the primary diet, they often feed far from the shoreline in deeper water than other dabbling ducks. Sometimes, Gadwalls will snatch food from diving ducks when they surface. They will also eat aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, insects, crustaceans and some times small fish. They eat more animal material during nesting when they need more protein.
Gadwalls breed in playa lakes, prairie potholes and other wetland areas in the Great Plains and prairies. They can be found in central Texas in the winter in ponds, lakes in city parks, sewage ponds and in our rivers. While they are widespread in North America, they are more common on inland waters west of the Mississippi.
The population was stable through the 1970s and 1980s when other waterfowl species were declining. Because of conservation of wetlands in their breeding habitat, Gadwalls have increased in number to record levels since the 1980s.
Gadwalls are a game bird, the third most harvested duck in North America. In Texas the duck limit is six. Harvest of gadwall and other waterfowl are carefully managed by international, federal, and state game laws.