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Outdoors just for kids

The scene was classic winter. It was spectacularly beautiful and just a bit surreal.

A light snow was gently falling. A little spot of valley marshland was covered with snow. The temperature hovered just above zero.

And suddenly, from somewhere in the snow up high, a colorful drake and hen mallard began dropping straight down, their wings cupped to catch the air and brake their fall. They slipped a bit to one side, then the other, as if catching their balance. And they finally disappeared into the frozen reeds somewhere out in the snowy marsh.

As I said, this is a classic winter scene in Montana. From their viewpoint above, the pair of mallards could see a spot of spring-fed open water somewhere in that frozen marsh below. There might have been other mallards there already which attracted them to the spot. Perhaps they were alone.

These spots of open water are critical to wintering ducks in Montana. As long as ducks have it and snow doesn’t pile too deep in the cut-over grain and corn fields, they can feed in them and survive the winter here very nicely.

No matter how cold it gets, their thick coats of down and feathers insulate them and keep them warm. They do need a food source. They do need water for resting during the day and sleeping at night.

As long as they have those things, they stick around and provide a bit of bright beauty against the gray and tan and white bleakness of winter. The whole scene I watched played out in just a moment. But it was one to tuck away, remember and smile about again during the cold months ahead.

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