Winter and early spring are the times of waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) in southeastern Pennsylvania.

These exciting flocks of handsome waterfowl are inspiring to see and hear lifting off from still water at dusk in winter, steering into the wind for flight control, their reflections on the water doubling their beauty.

Seconds later, their lines and V-shaped flocks, following each other across the sky as if on an aerial highway, are strikingly silhouetted black against the sunset as they noisily head for harvested cornfields to scoop up corn kernels.

In a few minutes, thrilling skeins of each kind of waterfowl gracefully circle over their chosen field to watch for danger.

Soon each group, one after another, with every pair of wings stretched out like parachutes, swings into the wind and descends like a feathered waterfall to the field. Those ducks, geese, and swans add wild beauty and elegance to that field.

I have pleasant memories of the majestic flights of snow geese, tundra swans, mallard ducks, and Canada geese in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Thousands of snow geese often take flight at once, blocking out the background, and without collision with each other.

One end of a flock takes flight first. Then every goose across their masses, in turn to the other end, becomes airborne until the whole flock is in the air, with every bird honking. The flock rises like a sheet lifted off a bed by one end first.       

Blizzards of bugling snow geese swirl over a feeding field, while individual geese float to the ground like giant snowflakes. The field is soon white with snow geese.

Elegant tundra swans fly in small lines and V’s, with long necks extended. Many times I’ve watched these magnificent birds set their wings like parachutes and gently float down to water or soil.

At sunset one winter day, I saw a silhouetted group of mallard ducks racing across the sky. Suddenly they swept down into drifting snow, tinged pink by the sunset, to a field to ingest corn.

One March morning years ago, many thousands of stately, loudly bugling Canada geese, in flock after flock after flock, poured fairly low over my neighborhood without break for about three hours!

They were all going north to Canada to raise young. That morning, all of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where they wintered, emptied of Canada geese.

Waterfowl in flight are an amazing, thrilling sight and exciting to hear! Look for them this spring.


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

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