Tuesday ducks

Here are some fairly recent duck photos and videos (well, they go back a few weeks, but I’ll bring them up to date soon).

The mallards seem to recognize me not by my face, which is covered by a mask when I’m at the pond, nor by my general body shape or behavior. It is the bags of food that get them running towards me, and if I’m not toting them, well, they ignore me.  Here’s how they waddle over to me when the Duckmeister (my self-proclaimed title) is coming with noms. My fellow Duck Farmers can be heard exclaiming about the breakfast rush. (Video by Jean Greenberg.)

The pond has a lot of ducks now, but they’ll soon be gone.

A hen taking a snooze. . .

. . . and a handsome drake in breeding raiment. The drakes are nearly all in their full breeding colors now (white neck ring, green head, curly tail feathers, and so on). They won’t mate till the spring, but they may choose partners before then, and they’ll need their new feathers for migration anyway (feathers must be in good condition to fly long distances). Some may migrate and others won’t, but will move to nearby open water when Botany Pond freezes. I do think that Honey migrates to the South, but I can’t prove it.

As always, the mallards like to frisk after meals: diving, making short flights, zooming, and splashing:

Since the Lab School is now in session, teachers bring their classes of young children to the pond to see the ducks and to draw them. Here’s one little girl drawing a duck, and her artwork.

Good one, eh?

Sometimes there’s a whole lot of chattering going on. Here are two drakes having a chinwag (billwag?). These “conversations” often precede antagonistic interactions like chases or (nonharmful) attacks. One male is pretty much in breeding color, while the other is getting there.

And of course I’m in love with the woodies— the recently arrived wood ducks, or Aix sponsa. As I’ve mentioned earlier, we had three wood ducks come to Botany Pond: two males in “eclipse plumage” (not yet in their full breeding raiment), and a female. The female left after a short while, but the two males, whom we’ve named “Frisky” and “Blockhead”, have stayed for about a month. They sometimes leave for a day or so, but have been here pretty reliably.

This is a male on September 14 (the pink bill shows he’s a male):

. . . and then the two males began changing color and pattern—first Frisky, and then Blockhead. They’re not quite all the way to their full glory, but here are some pictures of the two of them. The one less far along is Blocky.  These photos were taken October 7-9:

Frisky is well along, but Blockhead is changing a bit more slowly:

Once the plumage begins changing, the transformation happens fairly quickly—over a week or so.

Look at all the colors and patterns! The iridescent blue, green, and purple wing feathers are stunning.

This is Blockhead beginning to color up. The change begins, as it does with the mallards, with a single green stripe forming on the head, and the bill getting more colorful. We’ve made them quite plump with food, but that’s what they need.

Blocky. Compare his bill color with that of the untransformed male at the top. His green mohawk will spread to cover his whole head, and he’ll develop a crest in the rear.

Blocky and Frisky (they may be brothers, as the two drakes and one hen all arrived together). Note the lovely chestnut breast of the transforming drake, stippled with white:

And Frisky. Remember, on September 14 he looked like the picture at the top. They look like different birds! Note the crest at the back of the head.

This is what a fully transformed male will look like (picture from Wikipedia):

And the mature female (males in eclipse plumage, and immature males, also look like females):

More photos to come in a couple of days. Blocky is well along now, and Frisky is almost completely changed.

Here are the three woodies swimming together on September 16. Notice that they look pretty much alike. The first two to enter the frame, however, are the males, identified by their pinkish bills. The hen, who comes in third, has a gray bill. She won’t change her appearance very much, so that after transformation, the males and females are very different.

24 Comments

  1. jezgrove
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Crikey – that looks like a lot of duck chow in those bags! Great photos and videos, thanks.

    • Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that much; it’s in small containers. We do have a fair amount of cracked corn in the blue bag, but it’s 3 feedings worth.

      • jezgrove
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. The bags looked.heavy – being a duck farmer can’t be easy, but I guess this season is almost over.

  2. Becky
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Would Honey let wood ducks nest here? Are they more or less of an intruder to her than other mallards? Is there any way to identify if these particular wood ducks return next year? Do they have identifying features on their bills?

    • Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I seriously doubt that Honey would tolerate a wood duck family in her pond, though there’s no chance of the latter breeding here since they are tree-hole-nesters and we have no holes near the pond. (One could put up wood duck nesting boxes, but I don’t want to find out what would happen.) And no, I don’t think I could identify these particularly drakes if they returned (remember, the female already left), as they don’t have the distinctive bill markings of mallard hens. Remember, I couldn’t identify mallard males if they returned, either, as their beaks are all yellow.

  3. Terry Sheldon
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Okay, you’ve got my curiosity up. What exactly did “Blockhead” do to deserve that moniker?

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I was wondering the same thing.

    • Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      He was neither as agile nor as smart as Frisky, who got his name from his remarkable agility at picking up food while avoiding oncoming mallards. Frisky quickly learned to stay on the edge of the mallard scrum, so he could get food more easily, while Blockhead tended to wade it and lose food because the much bigger mallards displaced him.

  4. Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful duck drawing! You can see so much of how a child sees the world from their drawings. They will also be watching the way our Professor Ceiling Cat behaves around the ducks — his manner, knowledge, respect for living creatures, and his humour. Lucky kids!

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      And lucky ducks, too!

  5. Bruce Budris
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Is this the email address for submitting wildlife photos? Thanks,Bruce

    • Peter (Oz) Jones
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Welcome Bruce
      If you go to this page you can find the answer:

      ecologyandevolution.uchicago.edu/people/emeritus-faculty

  6. Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    …ducks with mullets, love it!…

  7. Glenda Palmer
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I was waiting for an update. Thank you for all the nice shots and comments. Yeah, they will all be heading out before too long now.

    • Posted October 14, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Me too! We must have been sending out very strong signals. I was fearful that maybe most of the ducks had gone, or that the year of
      Covid-19 and elections and a dangerous replacement for RBG had you in a long term depression. Thank you for the update on the ducks.

  8. rickflick
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    By the looks of it, you are carrying a lot of stuff in those bags. How long will it be until you need a wagon, then a 4 wheeler, then a dump truck. 😁

  9. Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    These ducks are beautiful, but the most beautiful duck I hope to see on a Tuesday soon is a lame duck in the White House. 😀

  10. Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Bless your heart, Duckmeister! That’s a lot of work, tending to your brood.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the woodies in their full and resplendent garb.

  11. Frank Bath
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    When I’m in the larger London parks I always look out for Wood Ducks, Carolina Wood Ducks the identification boards name them. Introduced for ornament they are astonishingly colourful. I envy you having them so close to you every day.

  12. Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Your ducks are looking good, professor, but your little girlfriend doesn’t draw very well. That could be ANY duck. Sheesh!

    Some of my pigeons recognize me – the smart assed pigeons. I’ve been feeding them for 6 months now every night but I always wear the same scarf (in lieu of a mask), my trademark fedora and of course when I whistle and my dog starts barking they all know and flock/swoop down for their evening meal.

    best,

    D.A.
    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/

    • Posted October 14, 2020 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      She’s only a little girl; I thought it was an excellent duck drawing.

    • Posted October 14, 2020 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Be kind! I can still remember my artwork from about that age (especially the art on the garage walls that drew quite a response from my parents) and I think her artwork is far superior to mine.

  13. chrism
    Posted October 14, 2020 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    It is surprising, isn’t it, how quickly plumage and fur can change colour? I see snowshoe hares that change, seemingly, over a week, and fawns that lose their spots over about ten days. I assume new feathers or hairs grow in, and then the old season’s plumage or hair falls out in a synchronised but selective exogen.

  14. Claudia Baker
    Posted October 14, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Love the duck feet in the little girl’s drawing.


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