Wednesday duck report: videos and pics

May 20, 2020 • 8:00 am

Someone asked yesterday, “Where are the duck pictures? The babies are presumably growing.” Yes, indeed they are, and I’ve been remiss, for duck duties seem to take several hours per day. However, here’s a post with some videos and photos.  And the University media people have made a Honey the Duck gif sticker!

We still have 17 ducklings, and they’re healthy and eating well (I feed them at least five times per day). Visitors to the pond tell me that they’re growing, but to me they still look like they were on day they hatched, as I see them every day and am not as aware of their growth. However, their downy fluff is giving way to more spiky feathers, soon to become their “punk” plumage when they’re at their most ungainly; and they’re getting less round and assuming more of a ducky shape. The drakes occasionally harass Honey, which stresses me out, but the males tend to leave in the afternoon, when things become peaceful. Duck farming is a business fraught with anxiety!

Dorothy is still around, but has surrendered her entire brood to Honey. Everyone finds that sad, as do I, but the redeeming feature is that her brood is now literally and figuratively under the wing of Honey, a great and experienced mother.

Dorothy still visits the pond in the afternoon, along with a new boyfriend whom I haven’t yet named. I doubt she’ll produce another brood, but at least she has a handsome swain. And there is a third hen who visit occasionally, and I wonder if she will nest and produce young, too. (Our last brood last year entered the pond at the end of June!) All visiting hens get copious amounts of food.

So here is an update, though I’m still somewhat behind. Stay tuned!

On May 11, reader Sara Lackie filmed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) stalking the pond, looking for all the world as if it wanted a duckling snack.  You can see it fly in, and (the video seems interrupted in one place) appear in several locations in the pond, including in the middle where it was close to ducklings, clearly stalking them. Fortunately, a woman filming it from the bank seems to have driven it away. My heart was in my mouth when I first watched this; it was at a time of day when I wasn’t around to drive it away. (I keep the Pondcam on when I’m at work).

Beautiful birds, but we can’t have them at Botany Pond! So far, we haven’t seen the heron in about a week.

Here’s a video taken on Monday morning by my colleague Jean Greenberg. This was after heavy rains the night before had raised the level of the pond by about two inches. That was high enough to allow the larger and stronger ducklings to leap from the water onto the cement lip, joining mom Honey. Soon all of them will be able to make this jump without missing a beat, and I’ll rest easier when they can.

It was sunny on May 16, and, after lunch, Honey took all her ducklings to the center ring for a preening lesson. They all lined up on the cement and groomed themselves. It’s easy to count heads when they do this (you should be able to see 17).

A closeup. Note that the ducks are mostly sleeping, with their nictitating membranes showing white. Honey has her bill tucked under her wing.

The next day, Honey’s brood used the duck ramp in the channel (which is usually free of basking turtles), and they all climbed to the bank and huddled under a blooming (crabapple?) tree whose blossoms had fallen. It looked as if it had snowed. She has too many babies to sit on them all comfortably, and so they usually just pile themselves up into a warm, ducky heap. Wouldn’t you like to have them on your chest?

In such heaps, each duckling tries to get as warm as possible, so there’s a constant roiling of the mass as they all try to burrow into the warm interior.  This short video shows one heat hog climbing atop the pile, trying to burrow inside.

Pile o’ ducklings:


Babies learning to use the ramp. They’re quite adept at it now, and the entire brood can follow Honey up to the land. (There are now two ramps, one in the main pond, usually occupied by turtles, and one in the channel, usually unoccupied.

How many ducks can you spot in this photo? There are twenty. 

Honey’s favorite spot is in a clump of grass on the north side of the main pond. You can see three drakes, Honey (foreground), and her 17 babies, whom you won’t be able to count.

Honey with her babies on the clump. She’s a great mom.

Here are her babies on the clump on Saturday, fighting for access to the middle.

This photo was taken in the middle of the night two days ago on the PondCam. She stayed awake all night on the island, watching over her babies. See her with her neck periscoped? She’s the best mom ever.

Finally, a picture of the new mystery hen and her swain. I haven’t named either of them as she comes only rarely. I wonder if she’s nesting somewhere.

17 thoughts on “Wednesday duck report: videos and pics

  1. It’s wonderful to see the duck family doing so well in your care, PCC(E).

    I wonder if Honey was upset with Dorothy over the loss of babies and the seemingly free range that Dot allowed her brood at the start. “You had one job, Dottie!”

    That pterodactyl strikes a frightening pose. I’ll be glad when the babies are much bigger.

    Maybe the mystery hen could be named SD, after SDF?

  2. The heron was back at the pond the next day (May 12). I saw it at 7:04am and immediately notified Jerry who rushed to the pond. The heron flew away a minute or two before he arrived. In the video and what I remember from rewinding the tape on May 12, all the ducks – including the four drakes, got into a defensive posture. Not confrontational but between the heron and the ducklings. I think the heron could still have snatched a duckling but deferred since there was some risk of injury. I hope it has given up.

    The dots that zip around the pond (i.e. the ducklings) seem bigger from the time the first arrived two weeks ago. We will be seeing zoomies shortly.

      1. I think it was Anna who coined the term zoomies. Are these full blown zoomies (by my understanding of the term), i.e. flapping wings while running across the water and occasionally getting slightly airborne? Or is my definition too narrow?

        Maybe we can call these zippies.

  3. I wonder if Dorothy is a daughter of Honey and just didn’t make the mark and therefore lost her mother privileges.

  4. Thanks for the videos. The GIF is cool.

    With your brood of 17 babies to feed 5 times a day, plus mom and perhaps other duck denizens in addition to your own daily business, and also dropping everything to rush to the pond when there’s an emergency, it’s no wonder that you have so little time to take the kind of shots you’ve taken in past years.

  5. To my eye, all of the babies are certainly bigger and of a more duck-like stature than their first few days. Great to watch their first attempts and successes at leaping onto the concrete sea wall. Thank you for looking after and feeding them so well through all weather and threats.

  6. I have not been following the duck reports, so this may not be new. Is there any reason not to get someone from Illinois Wildlife to come by and put identification tags on the little ones to help tell them apart and see where they go upon growing up? Just a thought.

    1. Ducks, specifically mallards, are in no way endangered. Their conservation status is Least Concern. Other than curiosity, there is no reason to tag them.

      Illinois DNR has enough on its plate and Illinois’s budget is a mess so I doubt they would be interested in a specific duck. The group which studies ducks the most is a hunting group, Ducks Unlimited. Great at preserving wetlands. They do study duck populations but not through following individual birds.

  7. Good grief, that Heron looked people-sized! And breathe easier, the ducklings are growning! So much easier to see now! And great Honey and the Ducks logo!

  8. This post took me back 71 years. My mother and I were staying with the family of a great uncle, brother of my parental gran at the village where my father was born. One day, about this period of the year, and at daybreak my uncle came where I was sharing a bed with my mom, took me in his arms and carried me to the ground floor. At a corner of a big room there was a nest with some broken egg-shells but also 3-4 eggs. I did hear tapping from inside the eggs and soon enough a creature was coming out of one. I thought it was a funny looking chick -it was later revealed to me that it was a duckling- as I had not seen a duck before. A city boy was wide eyed in amazement! Without a moment’s hesitation the first duckling walked, or rather, stumbled 2-3 meters and took a plunge in a big puddle where the duck was with 4-5 already hatched ducklings. The first one was followed by the next two in a few minutes. I, the city boy, witnessed a miracle of nature. Naturally, I had thousands of questions afterwards to which the single word “Nature” was the answer. Not only did I get to know ducks but also “Nature”!

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