Thursday ducks

May 27, 2021 • 12:45 pm

Various factors, including overwork, malaise, and my forgetfulness about bringing my camera to the pond; these have all stemmed the flow of duck pictures, but I’ll try to bring you up to date today. Things are going tolerably well at the pond but we have had some drama and difficulties.

Here is Dorothy with her nine babies. Remember, she had ten, but for reasons unknown to us she expelled one from her brood. That lone duck, known as “The Peepster” for his erstwhile peeping for mom, is shunned by all other ducks. But we take special care of him and he is growing well: in fact, he’s more advanced in development than are the other ducklings. You can see below that Dorothy’s kids are starting to grow their adult plumage, with feathers on their tails and on their tiny, stubby wings.

Because of one duckling murder, two unknown deaths, and two ducklings I got rehabbed at a wildlife sanctuary, Honey is down to four ducklings. Here’s her remaining brood. She tries to be with them, but a nasty drake flies in several times a day and chases her away.

The result is that her babies are without a mother most of the time. The upside is that they know each other and remain together, sleeping in a pile and eating together. I am sure that they, like the Peepster, will grow well and fledge. They are doing well, but feeding two broods and a singleton is not an easy task!  Here’s a rare moment of Honey with her brood.

And here’s the sad, lonely Peepster. You can see that he’s entered the scruffy teenage phase, losing his down and getting feathers. But he’s also in excellent shape, though I do with I could find him a friend.

Another view of the Peepster by the pond ruler. At this point the pond is 2.2 feet deep (for some reason they measure feet in tenths rather than inches).

The Peepster wants to hang with Honey’s four, but they don’t like him much, so I often find him near them. They chase him away. Trying to feed them all when they’re like this is, well, trying. But I always succeed!

Here’s a video of Dorothy’s babies taken two days after they jumped down to the pond. You can see how eager they are to be with her! And see how fast they can swim! All videos by Jean Greenberg.


And a video of Dorothy’s brood from three days ago, foraging on the bank. How they’ve grown. I like the bit where one duckling flaps its tiny wings:

Dorothy on “duck plaza” napping with her brood:

Rarely, both hens would tolerate each other and their respective broods on the bank. Dorothy’s brood is in the foreground. The fence is essential to keep people from disturbing the babies, who are easily spooked.

Here are Honey’s brood practicing their diving skills by the duck ramp, which was put up to allow the ducks to march out of the pond. They do use it, but sometimes, as in this video, it’s occluded by basking turtles.

Part of my pleasure as Duckmeister is to lecture to and answer questions about Botany Pond and its ducks from children of Chicago’s famous Laboratory School, which teaches kids from nursery school through 12th grade. (The school, affiliated with the University of Chicago, was founded by John Dewey in 1896.)

We usually get younger classes visiting the pond. Here I am yesterday talking to a class of 5- and 6-year olds. Notice how well behaved they are!  They love to watch and draw the ducks, and I love to tell them about the ducks.

The usual procedure is a short talk about ducks by me, followed by the children helping me feed them (sometimes feeding is difficult when the ducks are skittish). Then there’s my favorite part, the Q&A session. These are smart and inquisitive children, and they have many questions, including some that I can’t answer. One I had yesterday was: “How do they know how to fly?” My response, which may have been too subtle, was to ask the student, “How did you know how to walk?” But really, it’s the same principle. Kids don’t know they’ll be able to walk, and ducks don’t know they’ll be able to fly. It’s inborn: the result of evolved genes with perhaps a bit of learning. One day, a child gets up and takes a few steps, and a duckling flaps their wings and flies a few feet.

One young man showing excellent form feeding Dorothy’s brood. I told the kids to throw hard, as the kids are small and the ducks are some distance away. This is optimal form for duck-feeding.

The ducks are now at the age when they celebrate the end of their afternoon meals by zooming around the pond and engaging in all sorts of aquatic antics: diving, racing, and, for Dorothy, flying a bit. Here are two videos showing those behaviors. Halfway through the video you can see Honey standing on the bank overlooking her brood of four.


Thanks to the Lab School for giving me permission to post the two photos of the Duck Lecture.

24 thoughts on “Thursday ducks

  1. So strange about the expulsion. Let us know if you figure out why this happens. And it’s good to see you with those kids! I had no idea you had returned to teaching.

    1. Years ago, a guest lecturer in a sociology class told us about families that pick one child to be a scapegoat for whatever reason. He (lecturer) said he had seen one family that would come to pick up the other kids after school, and would drive away, leaving the scapegoat kid standing on the sidewalk. Heartbreaking.

  2. Love the action shot of the kid throwing the food, almost like he’s a marble statue of some Ancient Greek Olympian. It put a smile on my grumpy ol’ face.

  3. Marvelous about you working with kids in the lab school. And a lovely picture of you little class with them. What a nice learning community

  4. Very moving and uplifting. I bet this experience lives in those kids’ memories for a long time. Maybe some of them will be enrolling in the UofC in a dozen years or so!

    Good luck to the Peepster. May I ask why he seems to be doing a bit better than his sibs? Is it down to the extra attention (and noms) that he’s getting? And what difference do you think it would make to his development if he had a best buddy to hang out with?

    1. Decimal feet is a common unit in survey work in the US (land survey) and seen in marine practice in the US (clearances for bridges and tide variations, water head over dams, for example). It is- very- slowly shifting to metres, but likely to stick for a good while.

      Fun trivia: Which foot is this graduated in? (there are several in the US, and many world-wide. SI/metric isn’t inherently more accurate because it is decimal, but because it is well defined)

      1. Yes, definition is the important thing. The UK’s efforts at integrating the SI/metric system are probably no better – as a young child in the ’60s we measured everything at school using centimetres but would (and still do) give our height in feet and inches, etc. I daresay that aversion to/prejudice against/inability to understand metric measurements played a strong role in the Brexit vote.

        1. In my non-academic career (engineer) I see a lot of strange. Three different tons (tonnes), fasteners with imperial diameter and metric thread, and the converse, mixed meters, feet, and inches, and a variety of other sins.

          I could go on (the foot is being updated in 2022- old foot being deprecated in compliance with the 1959 law, finally- and they are probably going nuts where I used to work)

    2. “Good(ish) news from Botany Pond – long may it continue!

      Hear, hear! We’ve all had more than enough of tragedy….

  5. I’d love to see a video of the lab school lecture/Q&A. If video is a problem due to privacy issues, audio would be a close second best.

      1. And the ears of the ducks? Although they’ll be bound to spill the beans when they quack under pressure… (Apologies in advance.)

  6. Thanks for this report, I feel satiated. I bet the kids love visiting the pond and listening to the duck whisperer. John Dewey is an interesting figure in American education- one of the early educators that understood children to be the most important resource a country has. I’m glad to know one of his schools is still active.

  7. The children and the ducklings are utterly charming. It does my heart good to see Uncle Jerry imparting wisdom to the little ones — and adding some PE as well. That kid has great form! I hope the rest of the season is relatively calm for you, the children, the ducks, and the turtles.

  8. “One I had yesterday was: “How do they know how to fly?” My response, which may have been too subtle, was to ask the student, “How did you know how to walk?” “

    Classic! They will remember that!

    Delightful post!

  9. Lucubrations! Lovely word! I’m also incorporating pecksniff into my speech, such a perfectly descriptive noun!

  10. “I told the kids to throw hard, as the kids are small and the ducks are some distance away.”

    This reminded me of a thought I had about a week ago, while watching you try to get food to skittish ducklings. If you had something like a snowball thrower it could make it easier to chuck duck chow long distances. Hearing about the kids, it occurred to me that such a thing could be even more useful. (And give kids that wanted to try using it an opportunity to develop some physics intuitions.)

    Perhaps there is a mechanical engineer among the readership who could design and 3D print something more optimal than a snowball thrower.

    Anyway, that’s the sort of thing I think about while engaged in the duck watching phases of my current electrical engineering project.

    Thanks for the update. And belated thanks to yourself and the author of the recent discussion of duckling abandonment.

  11. The blockage problem with the duck ramp might be solved if the ramp were narrower. Ducks could still use it and might deter the wider turtles. GROG

    1. Just as there are infinite turtles supporting the world, there are infinite sizes of turtles available to fill all planks.

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