Dolf DeJong is the vice president of conservation and education at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. He is currently on assignment at the Oceanografic Aquarium in Valencia, Spain, supporting the staff of Europe’s largest aquarium as they expand their conservation and education efforts. His On Assignment blog series chronicles some of his adventures and experiences while he’s on dispatch in Spain.
Each morning as I walk to my office at Oceanografic, I take some time to visit some of my favourite animals. Most assume that I would gravitate towards something exotic like the belugas, sharks or some tropical fish. But for me, it is far simpler — I love ducks!
These amazing animals are perfectly adapted to life on our planet. They can swim, fly and walk to get around and are champions of migration. In the wild many species travel huge distances between their breeding and wintering grounds.
Two of the duck species who call Oceanografic home are the Red-Crested Pochard and Tufted Ducks. These species are well adapted for life in human care and successfully breed on site. With our recent changes at the aquarium, many of the birds were temporarily relocated to a habitat on the far side of our front entry building. The ducks became part of a mixed water bird colony with swans and cormorants as we completed maintenance on the pumps and filtration units used by the lake. We also added a waterfall to their habitat to improve aeration, critical to helping establish a balanced natural system for the birds once they return. This was an important change for the birds as we moved towards a natural system that mimics their native habitat. The move also provided the benefit of ensuring the ducks were not subjected to construction noise and dust as we rebuilt the nearby Humboldt penguin habitat.
The ducks quickly adapted to their new temporary home and the move provided an additional opportunity to examine all the animals. These examinations are vital to ensure the birds are in good health and all of them are wearing their “jewelry” (for the ducks, these are leg bands that help identify individuals for record-keeping purposes). The records help us ensure each bird receives the best care possible and, in the unlikely event of an escapee, they can be returned home.
After their month away, the ducks are now all back in their original habitat. Their new home will provide visitors to Oceanografic many opportunities for great views of the animals to observe their behaviours and learn their unique field markings. Ducks are an amazing and underappreciated group of birds and few people realize there are over 140 species of ducks worldwide. They move in large numbers on migration flyways every spring and fall and the Mediterranean is an important stopover along the core migration route between Africa and the northern Soviet Union.
If you are interested in birds, learning a few duck species at Oceanogafic is a great way to get started on building your natural history knowledge. Ducks large size, distinct male and female colorations and tendency to sit in the open on the water make them the ideal “starter bird.” While it may sound like learning all the ducks is a big task, starting with a few local species while observing their interactions is a great way to help you be able to spot them the next time you are out in a wetland. Grab your binoculars, get outside, and get started!
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a world leader in engaging the public through education on the wonders of aquatic life. We aim to inspire individuals and organizations to make conservation-minded choices for the betterment of our blue planet.