To escape hordes of shoppers elsewhere, hundreds of visitors dropped by the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City on Friday to learn more about ducks, geese and other waterfowl.
One of the most popular stations was led by Ethan Regan, a Runge Nature Center volunteer and avid duck hunter. Regan was adorned with a lanyard of seven noisy duck calls.
"This is a mallard," Regan said, when 7-year-old Brayden Ward gently touched the feathers of the bird on the table between them. "See how the male has a pretty green head? The females don't have those bright feathers ... they sit on the nests to hide from predators."
Ward had a ready answer when asked to define the word "predator."
"It's a enemy that attacks other animals," the boy replied.
Regan was full of interesting anecdotes about his favorite species. He noted 200,000 ducks traveled through Grand Pass Conservation Area near Chillicothe recently. He said sometimes millions of birds convene together to participate in mass migrations. As they travel across Missouri, it's possible to hear their calls for "hours and hours," he added.
He told Ward about the time he once saw 100,000 snow geese rise from a lake.
"They literally turned the sky black ... it was amazing," Regan said.
He also told the younger boy how waterfowl tend to follow four main flight paths - traveling along the Atlantic Coast, down the Mississippi corridor, through the Rocky Mountain range and down the Pacific coast - as they migrate south.
Missouri's numerous wetlands - including places like Eagle Bluffs in Boone County - act like giant "duck stops" along the great Mississippi flyway. Some stay in Missouri; others move on.
At other stations, visitors watercolored pictures of Canada geese, crafted their own homemade duck calls and hiked the Runge Nature Center's outdoor trails in search of duck decoys.
Missouri is home to numerous species. Dabblers paddle along the surface and duck their bills, but not their entire bodies, under the water. Divers live in deep, open water - think big rivers and lakes - and live up to their names. Mallards and Green-wing Teals are dabblers; Canvasbacks and Common Mergansers are divers.
Between 300 and 500 people were expected to attend the "Duck, Duck, Goose" event, said naturalist Trana Madsen.
"We wanted to offer a shopping alternative for those who don't want to be out in the crowds. They can come here and relax by the fire," she said.
Madsen said organizers hoped to pull in not only Jefferson City residents, but also people who live in the surrounding communities.
Planners tried to design activities that would appeal to people from every age group. She said she hoped people walked away with a little more information about common waterfowl colors, behaviors, shapes, calls and wing size.
Madsen said the staff selected a theme so that people leave having learned something new.
"So there is a take-home message," she said.