Welcome to Lower James, where the water is chilly and the wind is blowing! There are many ducks that grace the river in flocks and rafts during the colder moths. Today we will be investigating some of the wonderful water fowl that call our watershed home in the winter.

Buffleheads are one of our most beautiful and abundant diving ducks, with many flocks numbering well into the thousands. These birds are dimorphic, meaning that males and females have different appearances. Males have white heads and striking iridescent feathers on their face and body while females are grayer and drabber. They are generalist feeders, diving for fish and molluscs as well as plants. After departing from the James River in April, you can find these cute little ducks in northern Canada, where they use old woodpecker cavities to nest.


Ring-necked ducks are another very common species that can be found on the James and waterways across Virginia.  Their name comes from a very faint, iridescent ring around the necks of males that can be seen up close. Maybe a more apt name for them would have been ring-billed ducks! Like many birds, the males are colorful and vibrant, while the females are drab and brown. Both males and females will hang out together in large flocks, dabbling at the water’s surface for plants and small invertebrates.

Wood ducks are perhaps one of the most beautiful birds in eastern North America and unlike other species of ducks, spend the entire year in our area. Males are unmistakable, with their striking green pattern with red eyes and bright orange bills. Females lay their eggs in nests in cavities, high up in trees. After the chicks hatch, they leap out of the nest, sometimes as from as much as 60 feet in the air! They can then follow their mother nearly a mile to water where she safeguards them from predators while they feed and grow.

Can you think of any areas near you where you can see these awesome birds? Try looking for them around Dutch Gap, Jamestown Island, and Ft. Monroe! Want to see birds with knowledgeable James River Association staff? Be on the lookout for our Connect with the James programs this spring, summer, and fall!