Wetland Habitats are Vital

by Dave Hanks

Wetlands are important natural resources! They serve purposes other than providing living spaces for ducks, but that, along with the great diversity of other wildlife types that depend on them, is an important consideration. Their sedges and grasses not only filter out the impurities that make their way into our rivers and streams (kidneys so to speak of flowing water bodies), but wetlands, also, hold the melted spring runoff and slow down the quantity of water dumped into rivers – thus aiding in flood prevention.

SWAMPS are wetlands that have trees growing in the water. They are important oxygen furnishers. Alligators, turtles and other reptiles, amphibians, and many wading and swimming bird species are in abundance. The Alligator is the master beast here who modifies this habitat with its digging of gator-holes – which other animals benefit from.

SALT WATER MARSHES are excellent wintering areas for many bird species. They are tremendous aquatic food larders for human enterprises. This fact was brought home by the devastation caused by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

WET-MEADOWS (Bogs) are a succession step after a natural disturbance, which facilitates the formation of fertile grasslands and forests. They are also a very important habitat for many mammals.

FRESH-WATER MARSHES are what (here in Idaho) we are most acquainted with. The topography of the land or a dam built across a stream by beavers (those master engineers) result in these wetlands. And what a noble king of the marsh the Moose is! The little PIED-BILLED GREBE (pictured) is a regular here. This little diving bird has a chicken-like bill that has a ring around it in summer. It swims like a duck, but doesn’t have webbed feet. Each toe has lobes extending out on the sides for extra surface area for paddling. Its diet consists of fish, insects, crayfish, frogs, and small amounts of vegetation. It rarely flies, but will sink out of sight when it is threatened.

Pied-Billed Grebe At home amid the marsh sedges

At home amid the marsh sedges

Common Yellowthroat: Warbler of Wetlands

“Wich-i-ty, Wich-i-ty, Wich-i-ty” resounds from the bulrushes and cattails. I examine the vegetation very carefully to see if I can find the source. Finally, I discover a small bird with a yellow chest and throat, and a greenish back and tail. The most striking feature is the broad black band across its eyes – like a masked bandit. Whenever I walk a marsh trail, that call stirs my curiosity. It’s the call of the Common Yellowthroat, a warbler that lives in marshes, of all places! A species that is widespread from the Yukon to Newfoundland and from Florida to Mexico.

They shun the tall trees, preferring dense, low growing vegetation for nesting and feeding. Many insects inhabit marsh vegetation, and this bird readily picks them off – occasionally going airborne to catch some. With a handy food source low down, it facilitates building their nests in the low, dense shrubbery. Research shows that females seem to prefer males with larger masks. Males will perform a flight display, especially in the late afternoon, by rising to about 20 feet in the air, uttering some short, sputtering notes followed by song. They then return to the ground. Three to five eggs are laid in a cup-shaped nest, and both parents feed the babies. The young leave the nest just 8 days after hatching, but the parents feed them for another 3 weeks. When a second nest is built, the male will often assume the care of the first brood.

The yellowthroat is one of my favorites of the Warbler Family. There is something about that bright chest, big black mask, and perky nature that I find appealing. It’s species like this one that causes us to support “Ducks Unlimited”. Waterfowl are not the only species that live in wetlands. Hunting groups have some “pull” politically, and the saving of marshes benefits many other animals besides ducks.

(Dave Hanks)

His big mask appeals to the “girls”