Mary Schmich’s new column on Honey the Duck and Botany Pond

Thanks to columnist Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, who’s syndicated in hundreds of papers (and won a Pulitzer Prize), Honey the Duck is certainly the most famous duck in the Midwest—if not America. Mary just wrote a followup column about Honey, Dorothy, and their babies in the paper (first column here), and you can read it in the link below. If you’re paywalled, you can get 8 weeks of subscription for just 99¢ (no commitments beyond that, or get a free one-time read by clicking on the link below and entering your email address. Or make a judicious inquiry.

Here’s Mary’s story, with two lovely photos taken by Trib photographer Terrence Antonio James.

Well, perhaps I am a bit obsessive about the ducks, as it says, but it’s no picnic to care for 17 newborn waterfowl and their mothers, not to mention Wingman, especially when you’re dedicated to the proposition that all ducks must live.

Enough. Honey, Dorothy, and their mixed brood had a rough day and night yesterday, with heavy rains flooding the duck islands yesterday morning and thunderstorms with lightning last night. Fortunately, roll call at breakfast revealed 17 little heads, all of whom ate heartily.

Dorothy is nowhere to be seen, but perhaps, like yesterday, she’ll reappear in the afternoon. It’s sad that she had to relinquish her brood, but they’ll be well taken care of under Honey’s wing.

Spurning the watery and flooded duck islands (they’ll dry out and be habitable in a day or so), Honey’s taken to sleeping with her brood on a clump of grass by the beach. If you go see her, please tread softly and don’t disturb the sleepers.

Here they are snapped a short while ago. You can see that mom and offspring are tired. And there are too many ducklings to fit under her, so most rest in a heap, each trying to get into the warm middle.

Thanks to Mary and Terrence for coming out and spending an hour interviewing me, seeing the ducks, and taking photos.

26 Comments

  1. JezGrove
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Nice photos and article, but poor Dorothy!

    • Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Tell me about it. For a while I tried to ensure that each hen got some ducklings, but that was totally futile. Now I think they’re all imprinted on Honey. Dorothy still tries to get some, though.

      At least she has the companionship of Wingman.

      And to think that Dorothy and Honey were BFFs before the babies came.

      • JezGrove
        Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I hope they can stay warm enough with just the one mother – though the duckling pile is twice as big, which compensates a little I suppose.

        • Posted May 15, 2020 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          They seem to be warm enough, and the weather is going to warm up next week, hopefully for good.

      • George
        Posted May 15, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Are the ducklings imprinted on Honey or the brood (which Honey controls)? Sometimes I get the impression that the ducklings primarily care about being with the brood and the mother is incidental.

        Today is the eighth day Honey’s ducklings have been on the pond and the tenth for Dorothy’s. Is there a noticeable size difference in the ducklings?

        • Posted May 15, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          Both, I think. They certainly go with the pack if mom is not around, but both the pack and individual ducklings will peep if they aren’t with mom.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted May 16, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Adoption in the animal world. Perhaps more common than we realize.

    • eric
      Posted May 15, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      If she’s pining for motherhood, she can have my 9-year-old for a while…

  2. ursula goodenough
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Splendid!!

  3. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I hope Honey’s getting a cut of all the sponsorship deals, merchandising contracts and groupies you are inevitably going to accrue now that you’re becoming really famous. Don’t want to see Honey getting treated like Steve Ditko.

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 15, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      One of Ditko’s neighbours claimed to have accidentally received and unwittingly opened mail intended for Ditko. She says she realised the mistake when the enclosed cheque/check had “too many zeros” to be intended for her.

  4. Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Nice column again by Mary Schmich!

    Can anyone answer this question — is a duck more likely to adopt another duck’s ducklings if that other duck is a daughter? Or if they share the father? Or is it all just down to chance and imprinting? (Maybe it’s more likely that ducklings imprint on more protective duck?)

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Dorothy is nowhere to be seen, but perhaps, like yesterday, she’ll reappear in the afternoon. It’s sad that she had to relinquish her brood, but they’ll be well taken care of under Honey’s wing.

    Is there a gene-centric evolutionary explanation for why the hens would seek (to the point of fighting) to raise each other’s broods? Is this behavior common in ducks? Or might it suggest that Dorothy is indeed Honey’s daughter, and Dorthy’s offspring consequently Honey’s grandkids, potentially carrying her genes into future generations?

    • Posted May 15, 2020 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      There are theories, but no more than that as the behavior isn’t that common.For instance, you’d propagate your own genes by raising a relative’s brood, though I have no idea if Honey and Dorothy are related. Or it could be a kind of predator insurance, in which if a predator just picks off one or two of your brood, if you have a lot of unrelated ducklings in your brood, the chance that you’ll lose your own offspring is diminished.

      • Dominic
        Posted May 15, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        It is Dorothy whose genes benefit – she does not have to do any work & is effectively a cuckoo…! 🤭

    • Dominic
      Posted May 15, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      My suggestion is that normally they would not be in such close proximity – it is an artificial situation as PCC(E) (& others?) feeds them. I bet that otherwise it would be a one or no brood pond -is there enough natural food there for a duck & brood? Anyway, the duck is primed to consider a local duckling her own & cannot distinguish her own as opposed to another duck’s offspring.
      My guess is that this is what happens when they lack space. I expect someone has done research on nest distribution in the wild – if I were not painstakingly typing on a mobile telephone I’d look to see! I’d like to see research on whether a duck or a ny bird can distinguish kin. I am sure they cannot count though I’d bet forbids could do this better…

      • Dominic
        Posted May 15, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Forbids I mean corbids only bloody Apple phone changed what I typed!!!!!! Grrrr…

    • EdwardM
      Posted May 15, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Does there have to be an evolutionary reason for this behavior? Could just be that there isn’t anything going on here except the hens got into a scramble and by chance all the ducklings ended up with one. It may be that ducks can’t count or are otherwise unable to distinguish their offspring and simply rely on the little ones to make the distinction (I thought it was the ducklings who imprint, not the hens, but what do I know).

      In any event, it seems Honey is an exemplary mom and all 17 have an excellent chance.

  6. Posted May 15, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    If Dorothy is without ducklings I wonder if she would then become receptive to mating, with a 2nd brood then making an appearance.

  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    A very nice piece. Good photos accompanying the article and also in this post. Heretofore, I’d seen only one or two close-up photos of the ducklings en masse.

    Hope that nothing untoward happened to Dorothy. Perhaps she can’t stand seeing her ducknapped babies with their new mother.

    Though I have no ducks to wrangle, so no real excuse since I’m not a child, I think I’ll get myself a super-soaker and break up crow fights or cat fights, though there are a few cantankerous people I’d like to zap.

    • Posted May 15, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Dorothy is around; she comes to the pond late morning and spends the night there, frequently consorting with Wingman, who’s sort of become her boyfriend.

  8. Posted May 16, 2020 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    I have two questions.
    1. What is written on the central, bigger piece of paper put on the fence, the one torn away during the night thunderstorm and later put back by PCC?
    2. Is anything known about the third hen, “the late arrival”, who is probably nesting now? When will her brood hatch?


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