Labor Day duck report

September 7, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I have new duck photos and videos, but the videos, which have to be put on YouTube, will have to wait.  Today we have pictures and a brief update.

Botany Pond is still harboring Honey, Dorothy, and six babies, though it’s getting increasingly harder to pick out Dorothy and the kids because they don’t stay together much except at feeding time. As Dorothy’s second brood was born on June 29, they’re now nine weeks old, and fully capable of flying. Except for their newly-minted appearance and tendency to stay together, they’re hard to pick out from the other grown ducks.

Besides the Big Eight, whose care gets priority, a lot of pensioners and itinerants have shown up lately. This has put a strain on the food supply, for the interlopers must be fed to keep them from overwhelming Dorothy, the kids, and Honey at feeding time. The Big eight of course get the lion’s share of the food, but no mallard goes unfed. The maximum number of ducks we’ve had has been sixty (!), but they’re slowly waning in number as migration time approaches, and we’re now down to a maximum of forty, including the Big Eight. (Last year we had 31: three mothers and 28 babies, with no itinerants.) During the upcoming and cooler week, I expect more attrition.

Too many ducks!

Sometimes there’s a “duck alarm”: one duck quacks and everybody goes quiet. Often they all move to one end of the pond and face in one direction. We never know what sets off this alarm; it may be a predator, but we never see it. Here they’ve all moved to the south end and are very quiet and still. They won’t eat until the “all clear” is sounded, but we don’t know what cues that; we just see that the ducks start moving again.

A handsome drake. You can tell they’re males because their bills are a yellowish olive green, and they’re large (hens have orange bills). And, as you can see from this one, they’re starting to “green up”: getting their green, iridescent heads and other sexually dimorphic colors. Soon they’ll develop white neck rings as well. I don’t think we’ll see the drakes in their full glory before they migrate, which I expect to happen within the next three weeks.

More greening up: big drake and little drake. See the green color starting on their heads?

Although the influx of ducks can be a pain, it has its advantages in that you get to know different ducks and their personalities and phenotypes. For instance, we had a lame duck (yes, a real one) the past couple of weeks. At first he couldn’t walk well on land, and in the water could paddle with only one leg. I was told by a duck expert that if he could walk at all, he was probably okay, with a sprain or non-broken-leg injury that might heal. We singled out that drake and fed him up and, sure enough, now he can walk almost normally and is paddling with both feet. We’re very happy.

And here is Salvador, the moustachioed drake who is also greening up:

One of our favorite hens is an affectionate duck we’ve named Suzie. She comes up on the bank while we’re feeding the others, pecking at hair, pants legs, and hands. She’s very cute, loves to eat, and is tamer than all the other ducks.

Note the distinctive stippling on the bill—the way we can identify our favorite hens:

Another advantage of a surfeit of ducks is that they put on a fantastic flying, flapping, zooming, and diving show after the third meal of the day, and onlookers, who have no idea what’s happening, ooh and aah. We have videos of that for later. Often people sit on the bench beside the pond and just watch the peaceful mallards chilling on the bank:

It’s very relaxing to watch their postprandial preening. If you spend any time with the ducks, you quckly learn how fastidious they are:

And of course, for the herpetophiles we mustn’t forget the turtles. There haven’t been that many lately, as the weather has been warm and they don’t need to sun themselves so much. I suspect they’re getting ready to hibernate. Here are a couple on the duck island yesterday, stretching their limbs and necks to get the sun.

Soon it will be farewell to mallards as they head south to overwinter in warmer climes. Will Honey return next year?

12 thoughts on “Labor Day duck report

  1. I noticed that the fence with the “do not feed the ducks” signs has been removed — did you have something to do with that? Is that because the ducklings are grown and they can take care of themselves now?

  2. … a lot of pensioners and itinerants have shown up lately.

    Bounders and freeloaders sounds even more like it. Word must get round the mallard telegraph about all the easy chow to be had at Botany Pond.

  3. Thanks for the update at Botany Pond. Appreciating the notes and observations about different things like group response to alarm and feedings. It will be fun to see more images as Salvador greens up and become even more handsome. Susie sounds like a a ‘Sweet Sue’ – and aren’t you fortunate to have her around.

  4. I think ducks know how to separate when it gets to be too many. They do like to hang together in small groups. Probably a safety thing.

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