Journals of Lewis and Clark: Ducks

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The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Ducks
The following excerpts are taken from entries of the Journals of Lewis and Clark - Ducks. A general description of the beasts, Ducks and Ducks, &c. found by the party in this expedition.

Of ducks, we enumerate many kinds: the duckin-mallard; the canvass-back duck; the red-headed fishing duck, the black and white duck; the little brown duck; black duck; two species of divers, and blue-winged teal.

1. The duckinmallard, or common large duck, resembles the domestic duck, are very abundant, and found in every part of the river below the mountains: they remain here all winter, but during this season do not continue much above tide-water.

2. The canvass-back duck is a most beautiful fowl, and most delicious to the palate: it is found in considerable numbers in this neighborhood. It is of the same species with those of the Delaware, Susquehannah and Potomack, where it is called the canvass-back duck, and in James' river it is known by the name of the shelled drake. From this last mentioned river, it is said, however, that they have almost totally disappeared. To the epicure of those parts of the United States, where this game is in plenty, nothing need be said in praise of its exquisite flavor, and those on the banks of the Columbia are equally delicious. We saw nothing of them until after we had reached the marshy islands.

3. The-red headed fishing duck is common to every part of the river, and was likewise found in the Rocky mountains, and was the only duck discovered in the waters of the Columbia within those mountains. They feed chiefly on crawfish, and are the same in every respect as those on the rivers and the mountains bordering on the Atlantic ocean.

4. The black and white duck is small, and a size larger than the teal. The male is beautifully variegated with black and white: the white occupies the side of the head, breast and back, the tail, feathers of the wings, and two tufts of feathers which cover the upper part of the wings, when folded, and likewise the neck and head: the female is darker. This is believed to be the same species of duck common to the Atlantic coast, and called the butter-box. The beak is wide and short, and, as well as the legs, of a dark color, and the flesh extremely well flavored. In form it resembles the duckinmallard, although not more than half the size of that bird. It generally resorts to the grassy marshes, and feeds on grass seeds, as well as roots.

5. The black duck is about the size of the blue-winged teal; the color of a dusky black; the breast and belly somewhat lighter, and of a dusky brown: the legs stand longitudinally with the body, and the bird when on shore, stands very erect: the legs and feet are of a dark brown: it has four toes on each foot, and a short one at the heel: the long toes are in front, unconnected with the web: the webs are attached to each side of the several joints of the toe, and divided by several sinews at each joint, the web assuming in the intermediate part an eliptical form: the beak is about two inches long, straight, fluted on the sides, and tapering to a sharp point: the upper chop is the longest, and bears on its base, at its junction with the head, a little conic protuberance of a cartilagenous substance, being of a reddish brown at the point: the beak is of an ivory color; the eye dark. These ducks usually associate in large flocks, are very noisy, and have a sharp shrill whistle: they are fat and agreeably flavored; feed principally on moss and vegetable productions of the water: they are not exclusively confined to the water at all seasons, Captain Lewis has noticed them on many parts of the rivers Ohio and Mississippi.

6. The divers are the same with those of the United States. The smaller species have some white feathers about the rump, with no perceptible tail, and are very acute and quick in their motion: the body is of a reddish brown; the beak sharp, and somewhat curved, like that of the pheasant: the toes are not connected, but webbed, like those of the black duck. The larger species are about the size of the teal, and can fly a short distance, which the smaller but seldom attempt: they have a short tail; their color is also a uniform brick reddish brown: the beak is straight and pointed: the feet are of the same form with the other species: the legs remarkably thin and flat, one edge being in front. The food of both species is fish and flesh: their flesh is unfit for use.

7. The blue-winged teal is an excellent duck, and in all respects the same as those of the United States. One of our hunters killed a duck which appeared to be a male. It was of a size less than the duckinmallard; the head, the neck as low as the croup, the back, tail, and covert of the wings were all of a deep fine black, with a slight mixture of purple about the head and neck: the belly and breast are white: some long feathers which lie underneath the wings, and cover the thighs, were of a pale dove color, with fine black specks: the large feathers of the wings are of a dove color: the legs are dark; the feet are composed of four toes, of which three are in front connected by a web: the fourth is short and flat, and placed high on the heel behind the leg: the tail is composed of fourteen short pointed feathers: the beak of this duck is remarkably wide, and two inches in length: the upper chop exceeds the under one, both in length and width, insomuch, that when the beak is closed, the under chop is entirely concealed by the upper: the tongue indenture on the margin of the chops, are like those of the mallard: the nostrils are large, longitudinal, and connected: a narrow strip of white garnishes the base of the upper chop: this is succeeded by a pale sky-blue color, occupying about an inch; which again is succeeded by a transverse stripe of white, and the extremity is a fine black: the eye is moderately large, the pupil black, and of a fine orange color: the featherson the crown of the head are longer than those on the upper part of the neck and other parts of the head, which give it the appearance of being crested.

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