You might think that a freshwater pond on Martha’s Vineyard in winter would be a habitat unlikely to attract birds, but, as long as some of the water surface resists freezing, there is a better than fair chance that some birds can be found there.

Some stalk along the shore, some dabble at the pond surface or dive for whatever edibles are beneath the surface. Some, like gulls, just drop in to bathe. The variety of waterfowl that frequent our freshwater ponds during the cold months is impressive. Mergansers, bufflehead and scaup dive beneath the ice shelf to get where the non-divers won’t venture. Swans and geese pull up plant matter to eat, while dabblers like mallards, black duck, gadwall and wigeon mill around them, plucking food items from the disturbed water. Coots, pied-billed grebes and ring-necked ducks, along with other diving species, prod the pond bottom for goodies, and the more agile ones chase down small fish.

Hooded mergansers skim surface of freshwater pond. — Lanny McDowell

It is intriguing to consider how many waterfowl can be sustained through harsh wintry months by a relatively shallow and nontidal body of water.

On shore, great blue herons stealthily work the shoreline, and black-crowned night herons snooze away the daylight hours, huddled in tangled willows overhanging the water’s edge, waiting for dusk, to begin their nighttime predations wherever they can find enough small fish. In the gone-by cattail marshes there can be swamp sparrows, and a marsh wren is not out of the question in one of the ubiquitous stands of phragmites invading brackish habitats.

From clay-bottomed forest wetlands in Aquinnah and open field ponds in Chilmark to the ponds along the Mill Brook stream system in West Tisbury, from the spring-fed headwaters of Tashmoo and the Lagoon, and from the vernal pools and larger bodies of water near Lambert’s Cove to hidden water holes on Chappy and the finger lakes behind the south shore dunes — freshwater ponds are an abundant resource for birds hardy enough to face winter’s fickle demands.

See photo gallery of freshwater pond birds in winter.