Death on Botany Pond

May 7, 2021 • 2:23 pm

I received a voice message on my lab phone that Dorothy was observed on the PondCam pecking viciously at one of Honey’s ducklings. I ran down to the pond but it was too late: a dead, three-day old duckling was floating in the water.

Dorothy cannot abide Honey’s younger brood and attacks them at nearly every opportunity. I had to take one of Honey’s who had been attacked to rehab today, though it’s doing well, I think.

I am of course devastated to the point of tears. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop the carnage. Honey has lost three in three days: one disappeared (probably also killed), one in rehab, and another one dead. Will she have any left by fledging?

Posting will be light for some time as I try to process this situation. Yes, I know this happens (that’s what the rehab lady told me), and it’s “just natural”, but these are Honey’s babies and I am not a neutral or uncaring observer.


55 thoughts on “Death on Botany Pond

  1. Fuck me. Feels like the phone call you never wanna get about an out-of-town family member.

  2. Sorry to hear about this but my experience with observing the natural world is that there is as much to celebrate as there is to mourn.

  3. So sorry to hear such bad news. It’s difficult to understand Dorothy’s behaviour, since Honey’s younger brood can’t be perceived as a threat, surely? I’ve often laughed at the soap opera antics at Botany Pond, but now it seems to have morphed into full-on Game of Thrones.

  4. Nature is not the way we want it to be. How I wish it were. Condolences. I hope Honey can protect her remaining ducklings. What a strange turn from last year when Honey stole and raised Dorothy’s brood.

  5. It seems the pond is not big enough for two hens with broods. It would be nice if there was a way to divide them. 🙁

      1. Jerry, I’m really worried that Dorothy might do this again next year. I think both hens will probably return to Botany Pond, and Dorothy has developed into a very, very territorial and protective mother.

  6. So sorry to hear this. It’s like when coyotes take a neighborhood cat; there’s no solace in knowing intellectually this is part of nature. It still hurts.

    1. I suspect that imputing resentment over what happened last year to a duck entails unwarranted anthropomorphism, Paul.

      Though I would, of course, defer to an expert on the comparative psychology of the Anatidae family.

      1. I suspect it is straight forward competition for resources for her brood. Dorothy does not understand that there is an infinite supply courtesy of PCC.

      2. Lucky for me that no warrant is required for me to exercise my imagination. However, not much is required for one duck to recognize another and remember her as an enemy. I suppose we can only truly call it “resentment” if Dorothy remembers why she hates Honey.

        1. Not clear why Dorothy should resent or hate Honey. Honey raised Dorothy’s first brood allowing her the opportunity to raise a second brood. In terms of fitness, Dorothy should be grateful to Honey.

          1. At the risk of further anthropomorphism, a human mother wouldn’t feel that way in the analogous situation. And with the ducks in question, I seem to recall that it was not a friendly takeover last year.

          2. My guess is that Dorothy wouldn’t have raised two broods if the first one hadn’t been stolen from her. Mating again and hatching a second batch of eggs is not a cost free exercise.

            That said, I’d be sceptical that she would both remember and have such human motivations as revenge, which is what it would be. I think it’s a case of assuming the pond cannot support two broods of ducks and she’s removing the competition.

        2. Honey and Dorothy seemed to be getting on just fine not long ago, before their broods were hatched, even while sharing a mate, Shmuley (who, apparently, had the wherewithal to service the needs of both).

    2. That was my first thought as well, but I don’t know if ducks have the capacity to nurse year long grudges against other ducks. Crows and ravens are capable of similar things, but the duck’s mind seems very different.

      In any case, my condolences to PCC. No matter how often we remind ourselves of nature’s indifference, we can never fully accept it. I hope the remaining ducklings will make it to fledging, especially since they have such a devoted guardian.

  7. As the person who called, I feel really bad. I was so happy to see you were able to get there so fast, but now I feel bad about having added to your stress level, knowing that there is nothing you could have done.

    I hope you are able to get some rest after such an exhausting week.

    1. Last year, a duck decided to take her fledglings to the water at in a parking lot at our local suburban White Castle 10:30 at night, right off two major streets, at one of their busiest times. Two young women somehow heard the pieous cries of tiny ducklings, as they fell through the (many) drainage grates while following their very confused mother who had no idea where she was going.

      They spent an hour trying to try and rescue them, but when the last one fell, there was nothing they could do. The next morning very early, I read about it on Nextdoor, and said if they were going out again, I’d try and help them. (I knew it was a lost cause, but…)

      I thought a lot about what I could have done if I had been there, but In the end, all I could do was tell I was glad that they tried so hard to help. You also tried to help.

      But sometimes the situation just plain sucks.

  8. It is an admirable thing, to face such grief through one’s heart, and nevertheless continue anyway.

  9. It happens. It’s natural. True.

    It still hurts when it is family.

    Stay strong. Rest.

    I have no meaningful input but to thank you for what you do to support these fine animals and for getting the Uni to set up and maintain the pond-cam.

    1. I second that. You have done admirably well through all the ups and downs on Botany Pond. You will feel better after a couple of good nights’ sleep. Still, it’s heartbreaking for you, as we all know well.

  10. I once saw adult ducks fighting to the death in a zoopark in Athens. They can be remarkably pitiless it seems. It left me with an uncomfortable memory for some time. I presume there is some sort of territorial thing going on. Or wrong timing between the two broods.

  11. Yes, who is an expert in animal behavior. There were certainly troubles last year and this just might be a continuation. It is a small setting for two groups at the same time. My wife said this, not me – like two women in the kitchen.

  12. No… no… no… NO!!!!

    Just saw this. Poor everyone… especially you, Jerry. 🙁

  13. How horrible. If only there were some way to safely remove one of the mothers and her ducklings. Is there? How many ducklings does Honey have left? I wonder what has made Dorothy suddenly turn on her. I feel awful for you. Spring is beautiful and exciting but can also be so sad, especially for bird watchers. There is so much that can go wrong, and the young birds are so small and so vulnerable. I hope you can find some way to feel better about this. It’s probably going to be stressful while there are still ducklings.

  14. I’m sorry Jerry. What a helpless situation. Nature is cruel. I know you’ll do your best, and then some.

  15. I am reading this outside in the yard while letting my dog roam. I just looked down at my feet where my dog was nosing at something only to find a very small dead baby bird. Eyes still closed, the faintest wisp of gray feathers in a few places. It appears to have fallen or been ejected from a nest overhead in an ash tree. Last year I had two robin nests get blown out of trees during a particularly nasty storm, killing all inside. Life is brutal and short for so many of the young and helpless. To not care about these tragedies would be a pathology of the soul or heart or genes, whatever it is that makes us care about such things. That you care shows that you are a kind and loving person. We wouldn’t all still be here every day if you were anything but. 🦆 ❤️

  16. So sorry you are going through this, it breaks my heart also as nature can be cruel. You are a very caring person and doing what you can.

  17. I am so sorry to hear about this terribly sad and stressful situation. Sorry you are going through such a difficult time. It’s a sad loss.

  18. “There is no need to cry,” he said between sobs. “This is the way of the world—”

    “Not forever does the bulbul sing
    In balmy shades of bowers,
    Not forever lasts the spring
    Nor ever blossom flowers.
    Not forever reigneth joy,
    Sets the sun on days of bliss
    Friendships not forever last,
    They know not life, who know not this.”

    “They know not life, who know not this,” repeated many others with sighs. “Yes, Uncle Imam Baksh. This is life.”

    Excerpt From
    Train To Pakistan
    Khuswant Singh

    Or, as another great man wrote: “There is grander in this view of life”

    My sincere condolences.

  19. I am so terribly sorry. I know how hard it is to lose a wild animal you have become close to. They feel loss, mourn, console one another, but have no choice but to continue. I have known and lost many I grew to love and it still makes my heart ache to think of them.

  20. Condolences from the Antipodes. You do such great work with the avians in Botany Pond, and it sad when such tragedies happen.

  21. The death of one of Honey’s brood reminds me of the phrase used by so many over the years describing nature as being “red in tooth and claw!” A sad occurrence nonetheless. My condolences Dr. Coyne.

  22. Does Dorothy have ducklings of her own that are old enough to fend for themselves? Then it’s time for Dorothy to move on to the next stage of life — served with chestnut stuffing and orange sauce.

    1. This is about the most uncaring and hurtful comment anyone could make. If you don’t apologize for it immediately, I’ll ban you.
      Have you no idea about how to deal with this site or the propritor?

      Thanks for suggesting I kill her and eat her.

  23. The pond is too small for two ducks I would suppose. That produces stress in Dorothy, even though there is plenty of food.

    1. This is a job for….

      Science!… or just a graph…

      …. seriously though : if a threshold can be established, and is passed in the future, a pre-emptive rescue might be implemented – get those ducklings to the shelter/rehab place.

      1. Since PCC(e) provides the food, perhaps there’s some behavioral modification possible. Only feed them on days when there is less aggression. Or distribute the food in some manner that keeps the duck families separate. Or whatever.

  24. Life in the wild can be brutal, we can only hope that there is not as much suffering involved as straightforward antropomorphism would suggest. Are humans and our pet animals the only animals who have a good life, I sometimes wonder?

  25. That’s really kind of you to take in that duckling. But I think ducklings raised by humans don’t adapt the same way to wild life. Are you going to host him long term? Like into teenage years when the “cute” has worn off? I had baby chickens when I was a kid and I used to rescue the runts that got picked on.

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