Duck tales: Thursday

I’ll have to be brief, as I’ve been dealing with ducks all day. This morning Dorothy was attacked by the marauding drakes again, but seems to have survived; I heard Wingman helped drive one of them away.

Honey’s brood jumped from the ledge at 6:15 a.m., and I and two friends were there to watch and film it (yes, we do have video showing they jumped). All eight them made it down safely, and we picked three of them out of the trampoline and put them in the bushes where Honey was waiting. As the eight of them marched to the pond without us needing to lead them, I added Cuthbert to the parade, and he followed along.  That makes nineteen, and I was glad Cuthbert joined the gang.

As soon as Honey entered the pond, though, she got into a vicious fight with Dorothy that went on for a long time; they bit each other’s necks while the two broods of ducklings agglomerated into one big brood, peeping piteoously..  I separated the mothers with the Super Soaker, and the ducklings, who got splashed in the fight, divided themselves up among the mothers.  It wasn’t the right split, for I recall that Honey had five and Dorothy had fourteen! (These numbers may be a bit off.)

Throughout the day the mothers battled, but not as viciously, to get more offspring. Honey’s brood was as low as three and as high as 19, when, at one point, she drove Dorothy out of the pond completely and had all the ducklings to herself. But through clever distraction of Honey with food, I managed to split them more evenly. Now Honey is on the island with seven ducklings, and Dorothy has ten.

Where are the other two? Two got so splashed in the fracas that they got waterlogged and couldn’t swim well, and one couldn’t even walk on land. We put them in a box and they’re in ICU. I thought one was dead but after an hour of holding it by my space heater, massaging it, and rubbing it gently with a Kleenex, it came not just back to life, but became a fluffy, vigorous duckling.  Both waterlogged ducklings seem to be reviving under heat and soft cloth, and with luck we should be able to get them to rejoin the hens tomorrow (I want them to go to Honey to even up the brood). My assistant duck farmer, who is calmer than I, will be in charge of the reintegration, which is a delicate process.

I’m sure one of the ducklings in ICU will be fine tomorrow, but I’m worried about the other, which is a bit less vigorous, and if we can’t release it because it’s too lethargic we’ll keep it, feed it, and perhaps give it to a rehab facility.

So it’s been quite a stressful day at the pond, but now both moms are settled on the islands, each with a sizable brood. The marauding drakes have vanished for the time being, and although Dorothy is a bit beat up (she’s missing feathers from the back of her head), both hens are being great mothers. The problem is that each of them wants all the ducklings. There may be more swapping yet to come.

Posting is going to be light for a couple days, and please bear with me if posting is very sparse, as I promise things will get back to normal. I have great photos, videos of Honey’s ducklings jumping, and there may be a piece on the national ABC news this weekend. Stay tuned for photos and videos.

As for me, I need a hamburger.

UPDATE: I found one of the ducklings drowned under the bushes on the east side of the pond; it may have been one of the ducklings that got waterlogged during the hen fight. This is very sad. I thought only eight ducklings jumped from Honey’s nest, and that, including Cuthbert, accounts for our total of 19 (17 on the pond, two in the ICU). We’re going to get a video of the complete jump, so there must have either been nine who jumped or I miscounted Dorothy’s brood at ten when it was eleven. RIP, little guy.


  1. kirkwoll
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Man, if I could only witness a video of this exchange, my day would be complete:

    “I separated the mothers with the Super Soaker, and the ducklings, who got splashed in the fight, divided themselves up among the mothers.”

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      You might be able to witness it, but rewinding on the PondCam recording is very hit and miss, and I’m not sure how far back you can go.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        It goes back twelve hours, so you should be able to see it if you hurry. But as JezGrove says it’s pretty awkward to skip around and search for one particular episode (I happen to know).

      • Peter N
        Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        I found it! Just before 7 AM Chicago time.

        • Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          I found it too! That was one helluva melee! Hens viciously attacking each other! For anyone one else who would like to see it, just scroll along the bottom of the video till you see morning coming in and a dark figure along the pond’s edge at the bottom left of the screen. That’s Jerry. Then scroll back bit by bit to witness the fracas.

    • George
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Turns out I saw this live. I just did not realize what was going on. I assumed it was the interloping drakes again. At 7:26 I posted that Botany Pond was a beehive of activity. Have gone back to rewatch and realize now that Jerry was protecting Dorothy from Honey. Pardon the expression but you got to watch out for those old broads. They fight dirty.

  2. Andrea Kenner
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I am so sorry. I hope everything works out OK for everyone! Thank you for caring for them all!

  3. Mark R.
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a couple days you’ve had. Hopefully Cuthbert isn’t one of the ducklings that got waterlogged. Thanks for the update, looking forward to the great duck-jump video.

    I hope you get your hamburger, and if you do, make sure you accompany it with a cold beer. You deserve it!

  4. GBJames
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Enjoy the hamburger. With meat supplies run running short, especially enjoy it. 😉

  5. Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Congratulkations on maintaining order in the Pond. I wonder why the mothers would be trying to steal babies? Maybe they want cannon fodder, to lower the probability that a rare predatory event on the flotilla of ducklings will kill one of her real babies. This would work if food were abundant, so that competition between babies would not decrease the probability of survival of her real offspring.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      My guess is it’s a territorial thing. The males do some of this as well and mostly in the Spring. The water area in question is very small and there is not much space.

      • Paul Matthews
        Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s my guess too. The pond is only big enough for one territory and both ducks view it as theirs. Their protective maternal instinct is heightened with the hatching of the ducklings, hence the fights. They also both feel that if a duckling is on their territory, it must be theirs and taken from the impostor mother. If I understand correctly, things are settling down now and the ducks are adapting to the reality of coexistence.

        • George
          Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          There were three broods last year- Anna and Katie as well as Honey. But they were all at least two weeks apart. So the pond can support more than one. It has in the past.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        I have to disagree. The territoriality can’t explain the mothers trying to steal other babies.

        • Paul Matthews
          Posted May 7, 2020 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Why not? Stealing ducklings may be another form of aggression. If you can’t peck your rival into submission, steal all her ducklings. Could there be a more humiliating defeat for a new mother duck? The only option for her would be to leave the area in sorrow and disgrace. Ok, there may be an element of anthropomorphism in that last sentence.

          • Posted May 7, 2020 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

            The thing that needs explaining is why the mother would steal rather than kill or drive off another’s chick. The latter two behaviors would be an even greater deterrent than stealing babies, and would seem to be detrimental to the theif’s own chicks. Territoriality is not a sufficient explanation of the curious detail of chick-robbing.

          • Posted May 7, 2020 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

            Ducks can’t think in that nuanced way. It seems more consistent with their responding maternally to a simple stimulus: small fuzzy object? Protect it!
            This is why a mother cat will nurture a puppy, or why a mother dog will nurture a kitten. Its not a perfect system, but strong instincts are needed to favor survival of ones’ own offspring.

          • GBJames
            Posted May 8, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

            Since parent ducks don’t have to feed the ducklings, I would think a larger brood would be advantageous for surviving predator attacks. Much the same as schooling fish, a hen’s offspring would have a greater chance of survival if there were lots of other potential targets for a marauding beast to go after.

            • Posted May 8, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

              Yes, that’s what I was suggesting above. THGis doesn’t require much thinking on the part of the duck, since most birds do seem to recognize their own young.

    • Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I don’t imagine they can count either. So grab all you can, whichever you see, just to be sure! That’s my guess anyways.

    • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      PCC Coyne of the UC Duck Police. He needs an official uniform, however.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        Jerry needs at least an official-looking yellow safety vest, so he doesn’t get harangued by over-zealous and well-meaning spectators.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted May 7, 2020 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          And what exactly would a Super Soaker suggest to such an individual?… maybe a call to the police actually!

    • Roo
      Posted May 8, 2020 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      If I remember correctly, I think Dorothy might be Honey’s daughter? If that is the case, the ‘grand ducks’ would share many of the same genes, I would think, so maybe things like their smell or calls are more similar. (I think that is one theory on why humans evolved to have ‘child care’ related behaviors that are not specific to their own children – humans lived in smallish groups where most nearby children would likely share some of their genes.)

      I tried Googling it and saw articles that say everything from “ducks adopt other ducklings” to “ducks will kill other ducklings who get near their brood”, so I’m not sure what typical behavior is.

  6. Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the update. I watched for awhile at oh dark thirty this AM and couldn’t see where the ducks were. I saw one turtle that I mistook for a duck initially. Then had to depart for a blood test. By the time I started watching again, both moms and sets of ducks were swimming around the pond with no fighting. There also seemed to be quite a few humans attracted to the pond. Hope they all control their dogs and kids. I’m looking forward to your photos and video and, maybe,
    ABC. Rest up. Good luck in the duck hospital. May both ducklings make it.

  7. JezGrove
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I hope the ICU ducklings pull through and that the competition between Honey and Dorothy settles down. Best wishes to you and the assistant duck farmer.

  8. Muffy Ferro
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Wow what a dramatic series of events! And each hen wants all the ducklings, but I gather the ducklings have no preference? Interesting. Just hope things level out in the next 24 hours!

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Have you read exchange (#9) just below your post? It has some interesting observations about this battle over the ducklings. If it weren’t so vicious, the squabbling would be quite amusing. Too bad they can’t cooperate, some female ducks baby-sit, and they also do the duck conga line with one female at the lead and the other bringing up the rear with the little peepers in-between, as seen in a number of posts on this site.

  9. wonderer
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    One hen (I’m guessing Dorothy.) allows her brood to scatter much more widely than the other.

    Over the last half hour, I saw a duckling from Dorothy’s brood get far enough away from mom that Honey was closer, and the duckling joined up with Honey’s brood for awhile. The duckling seemed to know something wasn’t right though, and eventually spotted Dorothy, and tore off to rejoin her.

    I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how many ducklings have swapped moms.

    • George
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Yesterday I noticed that about half of Dorothy’s ducklings stuck to her like glue. The other half was more adventurous, some venturing ten feet or more from mom before hightailing it back. When Dorothy went to an island, two or three of the ducklings kept exploring before Dorothy got them to rejoin the brood. Is duck personality genetic?

    • George
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Yesterday I noticed that about half of Dorothy’s ducklings stuck to her like glue. The other half was more adventurous, some venturing ten feet or more from mom before hightailing it back. When Dorothy went to an island, two or three of the ducklings kept exploring before Dorothy got them to rejoin the brood. Is duck personality genetic?

  10. john switzer
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Just wow. Every few hours I would go to UChicago “On Botony Pond ” and look for the ducks. Saw one with babes around 2 or 3 pm and maybe PCC in a red shirt watching and talking to maybe a lady. Finally you posted some info. Looking forward to more stuff on the past few days. What fun.

  11. Robie
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s nice to see things settling down for now. I am surprised about the duckling wars. I would have thought the trick would be to foist one’s offspring onto another female, and then have more of your own. I really had no idea about mallards’ mating behavior, and have learned a lot in the last couple of days.

    I must admit, when I heard about the webcam on the pond, I envisioned calm, relaxing moments in between meetings or other tasks; a nice break in a peaceful oasis. Instead, it’s one dramatic moment after another. (Oh no, a fight has broken out! Who is that female with only three ducklings? Look out Dorothy, two males are coming in from your left! Why is that little boy so close to the ducks; doesn’t he have parents?) I’m all stressed out!

    But seriously, thanks to PCC and UC for sharing this space; it’s really appreciated.

    • Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      > it’s one dramatic moment after another.

      I hope you didn’t miss the “is that gray-haired lady yelling at PCC for being on the other side of the fence?” episode at 11:30.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        I was wondering what she was saying and gesticulating about! Doesn’t she know what’s what?!

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        I thought it was great. I’ve been asking people to work together to keep the ducks safe by reminding anyone they see breaking the rules to adhere to them: no feeding the ducks, no bothering them, and no going beyond the demarcated fences. I went past the fence for some reason (probably seeing who was where or feeding) and the lady yelled at me. (She didn’t recognize that I was the person who told her to admonish others) I thanked her, told I was permitted to go beyond the fence sporadically to tend the ducks, and also told her to keep up the good work! I was quite pleased.

        One great thing about this is that people are cooperating and mutually enforcing the rules. I don’t want to have to be the only person who does that.

        • rickflick
          Posted May 7, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          That’s good to hear.

  12. Posted May 7, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I JUST finished cooking hamburgers! Wish I could give you one, Jerry. I saw you out there all day, without any obvious bite to eat. Around 4pm, I even saw you (via internet of course) having to shoo a couple people out of the fenced in turtle beach/sandy/patchy area, intended to be a resting buffer for the babies. The one guy had a black and red plaid jacket on. I mean, fence means keep out, doesn’t it?

    Your post brought tears to my eyes, and your loving kindness towards these little creatures is very heartwarming. I wish the ladies didn’t have to mix it up. Honey obviously sees this as HER pond and her human duck pellet provider. There are lots of babies to go round, but instinct, eh?

    • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      We had no such problems last year with three broods, but they were spaced out by several weeks each. These broods are one day apart.

      I actually hadn’t eaten a thing since Tuesday dinner, so it was 48 hours without a bite. Stress takes away my hunger. But I just ate a humongous “garbage burger” from the Medici with fries. I figured I deserved it!

      • George
        Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        This is what Jerry deserved from

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted May 8, 2020 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          You need to post a trigger warning before showing us something that looks that delicious…

          • Posted May 8, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            Those fries are begging for ketchup or malt vinegar. Suddenly I’m very hungry.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        You deserve that and more! You’re one dedicated duck hero, PCC(E)!

        Yes, I remember how it was surprisingly amicable last year with the three broods. Must be hard for the mothers to tell the babies apart at a glance.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        .. this year’s babies, I mean… all the same size.

        • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          I saw a young woman behind the fence around 7pm feeding the ducks something from a paper bag. I hope she’s a designated helper.

          • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

            No, nobody should be feeding the ducks but me. If you’re at the pond and see this, please remind them of the “Do not feed the ducks sign!” It actually says, “Please do not feed the ducks; they are well taken care of.”

            Bread can actually injure the ducklings, and it bothers me when people flout the rules.

            • Posted May 8, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              Wish there were an intercom there so we could scold over the internet, even from CanadaZ! 🙂

            • Posted May 8, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              …. er… Canada.. or Canuckistan.

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Goodness! What a relief! For now!

  14. Ruthann Richards
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you to PCC and your assistants for devoting so much time and energy to keeping the ducklings and their parents safe. It surprised me that the ducklings would go to the other female since I thought they would only go to the one whose signal they had learned in the nest. It’s distressing that Honey and Dorothy are fighting–let’s hope that stops quickly. And my fingers are crossed for the two babies in ICU.

  15. Ken Phelps
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    At last! Evidence for Intelligent Design, with Jerry guiding the fate of the next generation with his not entirely invisible hand. Although, once the cam footage is lost, subsequent generations of ducklings will be free to make up their own stories, and argue whether their particular lineage was favored by the hand of a benevolent ape with magical control of the waters.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Too bad the OT g*d didn’t have a super-soaker to smite transgressors with, instead of sending plagues and destruction and curses unto generations.

  16. George
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Some duckling pics on UofC’s Instagram site.

    Scroll around – a lot of great pics there. High quality taken by professional photographers. Botany Pond had gotten run down before the university renovated it back in 2004. There are some beautiful pictures of the pond at the site of the landscape architects who did the work.

  17. JezGrove
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    “These numbers may be a bit off”- no surprise, those ducklings can really move when they want to.

  18. Avis James
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    It was fun watching you pace around the pond today!

    • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      I was there most of the day from 6 am to 4:30 p.m. A long day, and it will get easier from now on (I hope).

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        You really deserved that monster burger. Now enjoy a relaxing evening. I think you have things under control.

  19. Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Nature is both beautiful and disturbing.

  20. wonderer
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Thrilled to hear that you got duck jump video. I’ll be looking forward to that.

    Thanks for all your efforts.

  21. George
    Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to Wingman through all this. Right now he is patrolling the entire pond which he usually does. Earlier in the day, he was patrolling between the two islands. Now I thing I understand why.

    • George
      Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Right now, both hens are on the pond, keeping their distance. Once has 12 ducklings, the other five. So all are accounted for if not with the right mother.

      A little girl is inside the fence and was throwing food to the ducks but her mother took the food away. The girl is still inside the fence.

      • George
        Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        Wingman positioned himself between the two hens. Not sure if I would be so brave. I would rather deal with the interloping drakes.

      • George
        Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        Wingman positioned himself between the two hens. Not sure if I would be so brave. I would rather deal with the interloping drakes.

      • Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Maybe it was a social distancing conflict. I have been yelled at for just standing still in a grocery store when some woman passed me. Apparently, it was my job to get out of her way.

  22. Posted May 7, 2020 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    That poor drowned duckling. You did the best you could, Professor Coyne. Nature can be a bitch.

  23. Posted May 7, 2020 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I was so happy, then came the update. Very rough. Again, Coyne, you’re a man of great character.

  24. Posted May 8, 2020 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Did all ducklings jump in the same minute and was the mother waiting and calling?
    Here at the pond in Hammer Park it took three hours from the first one to jump (from a willow tree) to the last three to be united with their mother in the pond. The mother did not wait and call at all.
    It is not natural for mallards to nest on trees or buildings, so maybe their instincts do not suit the situation.

    • Posted May 8, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      There’s a fabulous video on youtube about the Great Leap.

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