Tips and guidelines for watching the ducks at Botany Pond

May 23, 2020 • 12:30 pm

Because of the crowds that now flock to see Honey and her brood at Botany Pond, and the occurrence of some unfortunate situations (dogs jumping into the pond, people trying to release orphaned ducklings as well as full-grown domestic ducks into the water, etc.), I’ve formulated a set of guidelines for visitors, and combined them with a few tidbits of duck biology that people can observe at the pond.

This was vetted by University media folks as well. It’s not official by any means, but I’m posting it here for the record so that people can refer to one place where the guidelines are collected.


Visiting the Ducks

What you’re seeing at Botany Pond are wild mallards, the most common duck in America. The vast majority of individuals in this species live and nest in the wild, but some have become “urbanized” and live close to humans. The Botany Pond mallards are urbanized, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that they’re not injured by proximity to humans.

The ducks are wild animals; please be respectful and quiet as the pond is now a duckling nursery. Above all, observe and learn! To keep the waterfowl happy and healthy, here are some rules we ask you to follow:

  • Please do not run, yell, or shout around the ducks. Please keep your distance, and don’t chase or stalk them. Walking too close to these wild birds can frighten them.


  • It’s OK to take photos, but please don’t disturb them or come too close; the mallard ducklings are babies and need proper rest and warming time out of the water. Do not chase them off the shoreline, planks or pond banks.


  • Please do not feed the ducks anything; these ducks are fed a variety of appropriate, high-quality duck food several times per day by the staff of Team Duck. They are well cared for and monitored by a live webcam.


  • Please keep dogs away from edge of pond and keep them on a short leash; ducks are prey animals and are very sensitive to the presence of dogs. They will quack alarm calls, which stresses all the other ducks. You may notice the mothers quack when they see a dog; they have very good vision. Never let dogs drink at the edge of the pond or go near the water.


  • Children are welcome to learn about ducks and nature at Botany Pond. Please make sure children refrain from yelling, throwing anything in the water or chasing any of the animals at the pond. Do not attempt to catch or pet the ducklings or turtles.


  • Finally, no one is permitted to walk around the back perimeter of the pond alongside the building (Erman Hall). It not only disturbs the ducks, but is dangerous (people have fallen into the water).


Tips for duck-watching:

  • If you watch them closely, you will see lots of interesting biology. Listen for the calls of the mothers to their offspring (there are several types: warning calls, “time to eat” calls, and “come to me” calls). Likewise, the ducklings peep when they’re lost, and the mothers then call to them to retrieve them.


  • Female mallards (the brown ones) are called “hens”, and the green-headed males are called “drakes”. Only the hens can give the famous duck “quack”; males make a lower sound.


  • Also, like Mom, the babies groom themselves and oil their feathers from a special gland in the base of their tail. They like to swim fast and play, forage underwater (called “dabbling”), and swim underwater for short distances as practice for avoiding predators. They often sleep in a heap to keep warm. You may see them roaming on shore, picking at vegetation and prey.

And here’s a gratis picture of Dorothy back when she had some of her own babies. She may be nesting again; stay tuned.

16 thoughts on “Tips and guidelines for watching the ducks at Botany Pond

    1. I’ve put them up on a piece of paper in two places, but people don’t usually read them. They should be posted on the On Botany Pond website as well, because that’s the deal I made with the media folks.

  1. You’ve mentioned loose dogs before. It saddens me that there are so many ignorant people running loose. I surely hope your rules do the trick.

    1. I doubt it. When I confront dog owners with leashless pets, they are invariably snarky and almost insist on the right to go leashless.

      The other day a big dog jumped into the pond without a leash, and the owner called it out. I saw this on the PondCam, and went down to confront the owner. I told her that it was University regulations and Chicago law that dogs must be kept on the leash outside. I then asked her why she did that.

      You know what she replied?

      “It’s in their nature.”

      Jebus. It’s in their nature TO REMOVE THEIR OWN LEASHES? This kind of stuff drives me batty.

      1. Some dog owners’ notion of their pet is so influenced by their personal relationship that they just don’t imagine the dog around strangers, other animals, or vehicles. A couple of years ago my wife was bitten by an unleashed dog while we were walking along the river. The owner’s response: She’s never done that before!

  2. What are people like?! Unthinking, unaware of the consequences of their actions?! No wonder the world is in a state! I saw a dog go in the water the other day – the owner had one of those extendable leads which substitute for proper behavioural training I think. Some (not all) owners need more training than their dogs! 😞
    Not WEIT readers, I am sure!

  3. Those babies are getting big. Need more pictures.
    I just saw a flotilla of ducks moving across the obvious babies.

  4. So does Dorothy get a reproduc(k)tive benefit from letting Honey raise her children — a second brood in the same season? If so, what’s the benefit to Honey?

  5. Jerry, you need to get “TEAM DUCK” tee shirts made for yourself and your other ducky volunteers! Maybe a contest for the best design?

  6. I’m sure the university staff will come up with some nice laminated signs.

    It’s good PR. Not just a list of “don’t” but interesting facts to know, and to look for.

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