Duck, Duck, Goose!    By Renny Gehman

You follow the curve on Refuge Road near the Visitor’s Center, and there they are: thousands of white bodies lining Wildlife Road and stretching out into the water of Big Mineral Arm. Snow Geese. Ross’ Geese. Mixed in among the white are the grey Canada Geese. It’s what Hagerman is known for during the winter months: geese.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude. But if you take the time and have the patience to look more closely, in and among all those white and grey bodies you can see patches of color floating. What are they?

Ducks. Over 20 species of ducks have been identified at Hagerman and 5 of those are common during the winter season. Several others are considered uncommon—present, but not certain to be seen. Still, the variety makes them worth the effort.

So, what kinds of ducks are common at the Refuge? For this article, I’ve chosen to highlight six species—5 very common ones and one nesting species which is harder to see. The five in no particular order: Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal. The Wood Duck is our nesting species.

I confess when I think of wild ducks, I think of Mallards. This is the duck most hunters bag, and the one most often seen flying in elongated Vs during migration. The drake’s shiny, iridescent green head with its yellow bill is the type of field mark beloved by beginning birders. It’s hard to miss. The mallard is a hefty duck, about 20 inches long. In flight, both male and female show a white-bordered, bright blue “speculum” or secondary feathers, patch on the wings. Females are a mottled brown, and lack the male’s bright yellow bill. Mallards are “dabbling ducks” meaning that they feed by tipping forward and grazing underwater, elevating their tails vertically. They rarely dive. Since they are dabblers, mallards are often seen grouped close to shore in shallow water—another reason they’re easy to identify. It’s not unusual for a December count to show 50+ Mallards sighted.

While Mallards are beautiful and easy to identify, I confess they’re common enough that I don’t find them very exciting. There is, however, a common duck at Hagerman that I am always excited to see: the Northern Shoveler. This is another green-headed drake, slightly smaller (17”) than a Mallard, with a long, oversized black bill. The most prominent field marking for the male is its rusty side surrounded by white which also covers the chest. Females share the male’s oversized bill, but it is orange/grey, not black, and her plumage is a mottled brown. Both genders are usually found with their heads underwater, shifting side-to-side as they strain food from the muddy water. That huge bill is an elegantly designed strainer. The specially adapted comb-like teeth filter microorganisms like tiny invertebrates and seeds to consume. It’s that bill that gets my attention, and made it the first duck besides a Mallard that I ever identified.

Another dabbling duck common at Hagerman is the Gadwall. While it is one of the most widespread ducks in North America, I confess I find them rather dull. About the same size as a Mallard, the Gadwall is considerably less ornate. Males are grey-brown, females a patterned brown and buff. Both have a white wing patch that may be visible when swimming or resting. Drakes also have a black patch at the tail. Bills are dark, but the female’s has a thin orange line. The male’s head is rather large and square with a steep forehead. Their feeding behavior is similar to the Mallard’s  

Snow and Ross' Geese By Ken Scheepers

Above: Mallard Duck Couple

Below: Northern Shoveler

By Pam Rendall-Bass

Above: Northern Shoveler Taking a Bath

By Pam Rendall-Bass

Below: Gadwall by Laurie Sheppard

since both are dabblers. However, the Gadwall may try to steal food from other diving ducks or coots. One thing to notice: Gadwalls are often seen in pairs as opposed to flocks because they select their mates for breeding season in late fall.

The Green Winged Teal is one of our smaller ducks, only about 12” long—about the size of a crow. This is another mostly grey duck, but the most prominent field marking is a vertical white stripe on the drake that extends from the waterline to the shoulder. In good light, the Teal’s dark head is bi-colored; mostly cinnamon with a bright green swoop from the eye to the back of the neck. From its name, you might think the Green Winged Teal sports a green wing, but no. This duck’s wing is body colored (grey) but both male and female show a bright green speculum patch in flight. This patch is sometimes, but not always, visible when floating or at rest. These Teals are dabbling ducks, feeding mostly in shallow water by tipping tails up to access vegetation.

The final winter duck I want to highlight is one of my favorites: the Northern Pintail. This is a fairly common, elegant, beautifully marked duck, about the size of a Mallard. Their two most obvious markings are their bright white necks and an acutely tapered tail that sticks straight up in the back, coming to a point. The male’s head is brown; their bills blue-grey. In flight, the drake shows a green patch on its speculum feathers. The female has a dark brown upper body, with grey/buff head and lower body. She also lacks the elongated, pointed tail feathers of the male. Pintails dabble for food, but will also swim with their heads and necks submerged to filter the water for food organisms. They tend to form large groups on winter feeding grounds, and readily mix with other duck species.

While there are several other migratory ducks I could highlight, I wanted to cover one of our nesting species, the Wood Duck. These gorgeous critters have a unique shape that makes them easy to tell apart from other ducks. They have boxy, crested heads, thin necks, and a long broad tail. The drake’s colors are distinctive: a glossy green head with white stripes, red eyes and a red bill with a yellow base patch. In addition, they have a crest which shows at the back of the head, extending down along the neck, a red chest, white belly, and dull yellow sides edged with black and white stripes. Females are basically greyish-brown, with grey heads that are also crested. Their most distinctive markings are the white teardrop shape around their eyes and a white edge along the blue speculum part of the wings. One of the easiest ways to 

identify a Wood Duck besides its distinctive plumage is by their behavior. Unlike most other ducks, they perch and nest in trees and are often seen flying through woods. Because they nest in cavities, they will readily use nest boxes. When swimming, their heads jerk back and forth.

Well, there you have it: six common duck species that winter at Hagerman. But that’s not all the ducks that have been recorded in winter. We often have Canvasbacks, Redheaded Ducks, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes and Ring-necked Ducks. In 2020 one December count recorded 13 duck species. While many of the ducks can be seen along Wildlife Road, they are also abundant off the pads, where it’s good to have a spotting scope to view the flocks on open water. Ducks are also common in Mineral Marsh and on Deaver Pond.

So, enjoy the geese—but keep your eye out for their colorful cousins. Soon you’ll find yourself calling out, “Duck! Duck!” And, of course, “Goose.”

Above: Green-Winged Teal

by Pam Rendall-Bass

Below: Wood Duck by Jim Johnson

The Education Pavilion is Now Complete!

It has been the pleasure of the Friends of Hagerman to fund and co-construct the new Education Pavilion at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge with the Refuge staff. This facility will provide safe and comfortable space for educational programs, such as Refuge Rocks, Second Saturday, Wildlife Refuge Week, Butterfly Garden activities, Photo Club activities, and many other programs and activities.

The Scope of Work for Phase 1 is now fully complete. Going forward volunteers will continue to work alongside Refuge staff to operate and maintain the pavilion through various volunteer work groups such as Outdoor Work Crew and Bluestem Master Naturalists.

This project has been a true partnership between the Friends of Hagerman and the Refuge conducted in accordance with our mission and our joint Partnership Agreement. We look forward to continuing this relationship as we further enhance this new facility and the surrounding Education Pavilion Park.

A Word from Kathy Whaley, Refuge Manager:

Thank you so much Friends of Hagerman! This incredible outdoor facility is the perfect setting to host programs designed to connect visitors of all ages (especially school groups) to nature in an environment that lets them hear and see birds, wildlife, and plants the refuge was created to protect and manage. In a day and age where electronic devices are such a large part of human lives, tuning out nature has become common for many people. A goal of Hagerman NWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to help reverse that reality and this is the perfect venue to assist with this effort!

On behalf of the Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I extend thanks and gratitude to the Friends of Hagerman for their efforts and leadership towards making this idea become a reality. Together, we will make an even greater impact on the future of natural resource conservation. I look forward to seeing the future amenities to come to this project and to continuing a great partnership!


Refuge Update:

The geese have arrived!  Over 10,000 geese were reportedly seen over the weekend, and this year's wheat crop is the best it has been in years.  It's a great time to visit: the trails are wonderful and birding is spectacular! 

By Pam Rendall-Bass

Lesser Snow Goose, Blue Color Phase

By Don Parks

Notice: Due to the Coronavirus, the Visitor Center remains closed.  Refuge lands remain open to the public from sunrise to sunset daily.  Restrooms are located at Goode Day Use Area, the Visitor Center, Big Mineral Day Use Area and Sandy Point Day Use Area. 

Upcoming Hunt Information, Closures and Applications

Archery Deer Hunt

December 3-5

Areas Closed: Big Mineral, Sandy, and Godwin.

Feral Hog Hunt

March 46, 2022, Mar 18–20, 2022

Areas Closed: Big Mineral, Sandy, Godwin, Goode, Meyers, and SE Harris Creek.

Spring Turkey

April 22–24, 2022 Areas Closed: Big Mineral, Sandy, Godwin, Meyers, and SE Harris Creek

The Adopt-A-Nest Program!  A Great Christmas Gift!

Every year the Friends of Hagerman give the public an opportunity to support the Eastern Bluebird population and learn all about them via the Adopt-A-Nestbox Program.

Participants of the Adopt-A-Nestbox program will have their name on one of the nestboxes along a Hagerman NWR hiking trail, and will receive an email every week during nesting season with a picture of the inside of the nestbox and an explanation of its stages of development. An adopted nestbox makes a great Christmas gift!

Donations to the Adopt-A-Nest Program help support the expense of maintaining the impressive Bluebird trail of nearly 50 nestboxes throughout the refuge.

We're sorry, the Adopt-A-Nestbox program is sold out

Look for sales to begin on December 1st, 2022 for the 2023 season! 

More Information About Our Efforts to Bolster The Bluebirds

The Friends of Hagerman Photo Club Presents:

The 2021 Photo Contest Winners

Thank You to All Who Participated

Intermediate/Advanced, Flora and Macro Category

First Place and Best in Show

Lotus Boat By Alan Daniel

The Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, December 18

The National Audubon has again, due to Covid-19, mandated that car-pooling must be within individual safety bubbles again this year.  Therefore the Christmas Bird Count will be performed the same way it was done last year: leaders will cover their areas exclusively with people from their safety bubbles.  Unfortunately, for these reasons, we cannot admit participants unknown to the leaders.

However, we welcome your help from home.  Anyone who lives in our Audubon "circle" and is willing to do feeder watching may participate. Willing bird watchers may send a report of the time they spent actually looking for birds, and the highest number of each species they found during the day. Residents of Pottsboro, Basin Springs, Sherwood Shores, Gordonville, Locust, Tanglewood area, Preston peninsula or Grandpappy peninsula as well as Enos and Shay Oklahoma are all within our circle.   Questions and bird counts may be sent to Dr. Wayne Meyer at

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, visit The Audubon Society


Mr. John Reynolds Won the Tram Naming Competition

This correction comes with our sincerest apologies to Mr. John Reynolds.   For some unknown reason the winning entry for the name of the new tram—the Wildlife Explorer—was erroneously attributed to Mr. John Taylor when, in truth, the entry was submitted by Mr. John Reynolds.  Once again, we apologize to Mr. John Reynolds and hope to set the record straight here and in the tram page on the Friends of Hagerman website where the correct attribution appears.

The winning name—the Wildlife Explorer—for the new tram was submitted by Mr. John Reynolds.  Thank you, Mr. Reynolds.

Second Saturday: Obstacles to Environmental Progress with Peter Schulze

Saturday, December 11th, 2021 at 10:00 Online via ZOOM (Registration Required)

Photo By Lois Lehman

Why haven’t we solved our environmental problems when millions or even billions of people understand the necessity of doing so? 

Several reasons may immediately come to mind. Are those all the reasons? How do those obstacles block progress? How can they be dismantled or overcome?

Professor Schulze plans to rely upon the group’s collective experience and insight for a discussion on the complete set of obstacles and what it would take to get better at overcoming them.

Puddles' Craft Corner

By Cindy Steele,

Master Naturalist

Honk, Honk: Geese at the Refuge!

Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner. Honk, Honk! It’s that time of year that we hear the sounds of thousands of migrating geese descending on Hagerman Wildlife Refuge! It’s quite a sight to see! If you visit the refuge this month, you could easily see fields of thousands of geese enjoying their winter meal. The arrival of our winter visitors has been described as geese, “descending like a prairie blizzard.” The sound of their honk, honk, honking is almost deafening. There are several species of geese who habitate the refuge during the winter months. Canada geese, snow geese, white-fronted geese, and Ross' geese use the refuge as stop-over and wintering grounds. Migratory birds by the thousands take up winter quarters at the refuge or 

Birding with Jack

Updated, Weekly Census Results

By Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, Mike Petrick and

Dr. Wayne Meyer (Pictured Right)

Each Tuesday a team of experienced birders, including Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, traverse 35 miles of refuge roads and hiking trails, documenting every bird they encounter. This Bird Census is reported to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use in research, and each week we will bring you a link to their actual bird count, and a summary of their adventures.

Shop Amazon Smile to Support the Friends of Hagerman

Amazon SmileDid you know that you can support the Friends of Hagerman while shopping on Amazon? If you shop on Amazon using this Amazon Smile link, the Friends will receive 0.5% of eligible purchases. Simply go to and sign in with your Amazon account. Under "Your Account" select "Change your Amazon Smile Charity" and enter "Friends of Hagerman" in the charity search box. Once your results appear, select the Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Foundation. Every time you make a purchase on Amazon Smile, the Friends will get a donation. Thanks for helping us make Hagerman a great wildlife refuge!

Kroger: Stop by the customer service desk at Kroger and link your Kroger Card to the Friends of Hagerman: the Friends will get rewards for every dollar you spend, at no cost to you.

Thank You

To Our Contributors:

Renney Gehman

Ken Scheepers

Master Naturalist Jack Chiles 

Master Naturalist Cindy Steele

Don Parks

Pam Rendall-Bass

Master Naturalist Laurie Sheppard

Refuge Manager: Kathy Whaley

Deputy Refuge Manager: Paul Balkenbush

Visitor Services Manager: Spencer Beard 

Editor: Patricia Crain

Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation

6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092

Phone: 903-786-2826

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