From thousands of miles away
They’ve traveled thousands of miles to be here. You need only to drive a few miles to take a look at the annual influx of migratory waterfowl.
Lori Dieter, with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, said now is a great time of year to see and hear a wide variety of birds as they seek refuge in wetlands and other prime habitat like rice fields, which are abundant throughout the area.
“From Thanksgiving to Christmas is considered the time frame when the wintering, migratory waterfowl reach peak numbers in California’s Central Valley,” Dieter said. “The best viewing days are the sunny, windless days, on loafing grounds such as at Gray Lodge.”
Dieter said the Pacific Flyway is a migratory path taken by many of California’s waterfowl, which reaches from the Arctic tundra to the South American wetlands.
“The North American waterfowl, using the Pacific Flyway, generally overwinter in the Central Valley and parts of Mexico before returning to their breeding grounds in the spring,” Dieter said.
“This is one of four paths crossing north-south, through the continental U.S., and flyways include many key resting areas, or staging grounds, which allow wildlife to rest and feed before continuing along their route.”
She said the main waterfowl species at Gray Lodge include: snow geese, greater-white fronted geese, northern pintails, mallards, American wigeons, gadwalls, northern shovelers, green-wing teals, cinnamon teals, ruddy ducks, buffleheads and ring-neck ducks.
Herons, egrets and raptors are also common at the wildlife area in south Butte County near the north side of the Sutter Buttes.
“Food sources can vary, depending on the species and specific needs,” Dieter said. “For example, when birds molt, they require nutrients such as protein and calcium to generate feather replacement. Ducks, for example, may increase their consumption of invertebrates, during this time. As another example, migratory waterfowl may expend a significant supply of their stored energy, traveling from their breeding ground to the wintering ground. To rebuild this lost layer of stored energy, or fat, they turn to carbohydrates. This may include millet, rice, smartweed, milo, wheat and barley, just to name a few.”
Rice fields and wetlands throughout the area are filled with birds. and people can often see them while driving. But Dieter said there are a number of tours at Gray Lodge, if people want more information.
From October through January, guided public walks, which take about 1 hours, are available Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m., unless it’s raining. No reservation is needed for groups under 15 people. Binoculars and a field guide are recommended.
At Gray Lodge, there’s a wheelchair accessible self-guided nature trail, with an observation platform, and a 3-mile auto-loop.
By December, an estimated one million ducks and one hundred thousand geese make the Central Valley a temporary home.