Many ducks have arrived at the pond lately—the itinerants and pensioners. We still have Dorothy and her six babies, as well as Honey, but there are sometimes up to 40 additional ducks. As you can imagine, this puts a strain on the food supply, for it’s impossible to feed only eight favored ducks without the others coming around for their share.
Too many ducks!
I have no explanation for the crowd, as this influx didn’t happen last year when, at one time, we had 28 babies and 3 mothers at the pond. I can only guess that the word has spread among Chicago mallards that Botany Pond provides at least some free food three times a day. It is a Duck Buffet.
Honey comes and goes, for she’s so dominant that. at feeding time, she tries to peck at all the other ducks trying to get the food around her, with the result that she doesn’t get much food. I think she leaves to avoid the hassle. I’ve solved that a bit by giving her corn, which she can dabble off the shallow bottom. But as the alpha female, and Queen of the Pond, she always wants to defend her patch against dozens of other ducks. Sometimes she leaves for a day or two, but always returns. Here she is yesterday.
She’s had a rough year, for remember that she brought up seventeen babies at once. Remember this? (Half of these babies are of course Dorothy’s.)
Dorothy is the beta female, and spends less and less time with her six babies (remember, there were once seven, but one disappeared). But the six offspring still hang out together, which is sweet.
Here they are shortly after hatching on June 29. There were seven then, and I’ll never know what happened to the one who went missing.
And here are the remaining six lounging on the grass yesterday, nearly two months old. They are juveniles, but are big, healthy, and well fed.
Some shots of Dorothy’s brood:
This, as evidenced from its olive-green bill, is a young drake:
And an orange-billed young hen. The best I can figure is that Dorothy produced three hens and three drakes (along with the others purloined by Honey):
Ducklings no more! Two hens and a drake:
Although the Sacred Clump of Grass—the place where Dorothy’s brood spent much of their young days resting with mom—has died, they now gravitate to other clumps of grass, where I think they find solace and memories of their ducklinghood (photo by Jean Greenberg):
Team Duck is proud of having raised the mallards above from those below (another shot of the very young brood):
We had a surprise visitor to the pond on Monday. It looked like a very small mallard, but it wasn’t a mallard. Can you guess what this is? (It’s the one farthest away.)
And another. It has grey feet, a white eye ring, a white area on the lower face, and a dark gray bill.
Tara Tanaka and John Avise both helped me with the ID: it’s a female blue-winged teal (Anas discours). It stayed at the pond for only about ten minutes and then fluttered away, realizing, I think, that it was with the wrong crowd. Here are the marks that distinguish this as the teal:
This is the only non-mallard duck I’ve ever seen in the pond. (Someone reported a male wood duck there early in the season, but I didn’t get to see it.)
With so many ducks, you start to learn some of them by sight. This drake, not yet “greened up” with an iridescent head, has a unique mustache on his head, symmetrical on both sides of the bill. We call him, of course, Salvador.
Reader Mark pointed out in the comments that Salvador has a duck head on his bill. And so he does! I’ve circled it. It’s a miracle!
Finally, with so many ducks squabbling and also molting at the same time, the pond has accumulated a lot of feathers. The wind and currents from the aerators and water inlet move them to the northwest corner of the pond, where I photographed them:
Onward and upward! Our job is to keep them healthy and happy, and to feed up Honey, Dorothy, and the babies before their Big Migration. Wish us luck!