Nature’s notebook

A duck-hunting morning of camaraderie

Sunrise along the Yadkin River. Photo: Crystal Cockman

I recently went duck hunting for the first time. I arrived about 5:30 a.m. at the York Hill boat ramp in Davidson County, and it was like Grand Central Station there. Many other duck hunters were unloading boats and dogs and getting ready to go out on their own adventures. I met with some friends, and before long we were on our way. It was a brisk morning, and the trip to our hunting spot was fast and chilly.

Our boat was full of the trappings of duck hunters – decoys and camouflage. As soon as we stopped, we threw out some mallard and wood duck decoys and began our effort to conceal ourselves, putting up netted grass coverings and draping camouflage over the sides of the boat. Shortly after we got settled, a duck erupted from the nearby grasses. This bird was a teal, and a buddy got a shot at it but it moved too fast. That would be the only duck we’d see that morning, but we had a good time sitting out in the river enjoying the fresh air and company, and after we were done, a warm breakfast.

A green-winged teal, Anas carolinensis. Photo: Alan D. Wilson (NaturesPicsOnline) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

We’re pretty sure the duck we saw was a green-winged teal (Anas carolinensis). They have cinnamon-colored heads with a shiny green crescent that extends from the eye to the back of the head. They have green wing patches in their secondaries. They are dabbling ducks. They don’t dive; instead they feed in the water by tipping forward and foraging on underwater plants. They are the smallest North American dabbling duck. Green-winged teal are among the earliest spring migrants and arrive at nesting areas almost as soon as the snow melts. They typically arrive in North Carolina in September or October.

Blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) are a touch larger. They have a slate blue head and a white crescent behind the bill. In flight, they reveal a bold blue and white patch on their upperwing. They have a black bill and iris. They are also dabbling ducks and are frequently found under vegetation around the edges of ponds. Other ducks we might have seen include mallards, wood duck, widgeon, ringneck, redheads, scaup and gadwall.

My grandpa used to have mallards on his pond near Seagrove. He would hatch the eggs in an incubator in his basement, and we’d have baby ducks to care for until they were released back to the pond. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as wilder wetlands and estuaries. They are large ducks with heavy bodies, round heads and wide bills. The male has a dark, iridescent green head and bright yellow bill. Mallards live in almost any wetland habitat, natural or artificial, and are frequently found in parks.

I’m sure that was only the beginning of my duck-hunting experiences, and I look forward to getting a wood duck mounted – if my luck allows me to shoot one. I’ll be back out the next opportunity I get, and no matter what we see I know it’ll be a fun way to spend time outside.

Crystal Cockman is a staff member of The LandTrust for Central North Carolina, with a focus primarily on land protection and stewardship in the Uwharrie Region.