Friday: Duck report

During this pandemic, it’s a great palliative for me to feed the ducks. I’m in isolation, not near anybody, and the waterfowl are getting ready to nest.

Yesterday morning I went to the pond and didn’t see anyone. But then I heard loud and repeated quacking from above. I thought a hen was flying in, but nobody landed. Then I looked up at the third floor of Erman Hall. . .

Can you see her?


Look a bit closer. There she is! But which hen is it: Honey or Dorothy (Dot)?

That bill looks pretty orange. . . .

Yes, it’s not Honey but Dorothy, quacking up a storm. Is she looking at this ledge as a possible nest? And is she establishing a territory with her quacking?

The next two videos show you what it was like. Remember—only female mallards make the classic “quack” call; drakes make a sort of quack-y grunt.

Another take:

I feel sorry for Honey and Dot’s boyfriend, Wingman. He spends about 100% of his time chasing other drakes around the pond when they fly in; he’s clearly protecting his genes.  He gets peace only when he’s alone in the pond with his hens: a fine henage à trois.

When the interloper drakes are on the shore, he patrols either there or right below them in the water to prevent their incursion into the pond. If they jump in, he keeps them away from the hens.

Wednesday afternoon the turtles finally showed up—big ones and little ones. Here are three big ones (red-eared sliders?), and one little one trying to join the big boys. It’s colder now and they’ve disappeared.

According to Greg, who knows these things, the turtles spend the winter hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond. They’re able to extract oxygen through their cloacas, so they don’t have to surface.

The little guy tried hard, and finally made it onto the bank where he could warm up in the sun with the others.

Honey had a snooze on the duck island, and it was hard to distinguish her tucked-in body from the “knees” of the bald cypress. Spot the hen!



  1. Posted March 27, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Cool. We have ducks across the street in our storm channel come spring. I don’t think they are here yet this year, so it was fun to see yours.

  2. Posted March 27, 2020 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    IIRC, that is about where Honey had her nest last year. Will mother and daughter squabble over the territory?

    • Posted March 27, 2020 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure that Dorothy is Honey’s daughter though they’re very tight. Last year Honey was about five windows over on the south end of the building.

  3. Peter N
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school I was generally the duck that got chased (I eventually did find my Honey, however).

  4. sted24
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    But why is she quacking? Isn’t that the last thing to do at a potential nest site?

    • Posted March 27, 2020 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      I have no idea.

      • sted24
        Posted March 27, 2020 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        Poking around, I found one suggested explanation:

        “A female will make a quacking noise just before she starts laying her eggs, which scientists believe could be to tell other ducks she has found a mate and is claiming that spot for her nest.”

        • Posted March 27, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          Maybe that’s the case, but she hasn’t started building her nest yet. Thanks for looking that up.

        • Posted March 27, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          Seems odd and dangerous to me that she would draw attention to a potential nesting spot. Is it a way for her to call up a mate, I wonder? “Look, I’ve got a good nesting spot. Come and get me.”

        • Roger
          Posted March 27, 2020 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

          Maybe it just hurts or something. (My theory which is mine and probably rong.)

  5. JezGrove
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Henage a trois – formidable!

  6. Posted March 27, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know the layout of your building, but if your office or lab window overlooks the pond it would be interesting to sneak in a nest platform there.

    • Posted March 27, 2020 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      That would be impossible, I think; buildings and grounds wouldn’t like it. But they’re safe on the ledge. I can also go into that building and see the nest from the inside, as I did last year.

  7. Simon Hayward
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Do you think cloacal breathing might explain Trumps behavior? He certainly seems fseems to spend time in the mud at the bottom of the swamp.

  8. rickflick
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    The plot thickens. Is she saying, come up and see me sometime? Tune in tomorrow for more, The Young and Restless Mallards.

  9. Posted March 27, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Ooh, my anatidaephobia just kicked in again.

    Posted March 27, 2020 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I clean pools for a living. I noticed, about three weeks back, that a mallard had nested and laid eggs in the shrubbery around one of my customer’s pools (no screen around the pool). I notified the owner. No response. (the owners’ were out of town) The eggs hatched. The ducklings seemed to swim about happily for a week, but I could see what was coming—-chlorinated water and all that. I improvised a piece of ply-wood and placed it on the steps of the pool so that the chicks had at least a chance of getting out. No such luck. Let’s leave it at that. Wasn’t it Hobbes who said that “Nature is red in tooth and claw”? That’s right, so far as it goes. But Nature can seem even uglier in mere happenstance.

  11. Posted March 27, 2020 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Yay, turtles! The little one isn’t that little– it may just be a male. The big, muddy turtle with it’s back to the camera is clearly a female, as you can tell from her short tail. The littler one, climbing up to her right, looks like it has long ‘fingernails’, which males have. Female red-eared sliders are much bigger than males. (The males use their long front claws to stroke their potential mate’s face while he swims backwards in front of her.

    I wonder if the turtles ever nest, and if anyone ever hatches/survives?

    The “cliff nesting” of the mallards is great! Canada geese have become “cliff nesters”, nesting on the flat roofs of buildings. I’d never heard of mallard doing so until Jerry told me about these. I’ve urged Jerry to keep notes and compile his pictures and notes into a paper on changes in nesting habits of urban mallards.

  12. openidname
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Turtles breathe through their ass? Underwater??? Ha, ha, ha, ha!

  13. Roger
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 11:31 pm | Permalink


  14. Mike
    Posted March 28, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Maybe next year one of the males could be named after the hockey player Drake Caggiula? He plays right wing (ha) for the Blackhawks, and he’s handsome guy when he has all his false teeth in. If he is traded to Anaheim next year that would be perfect.

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