Friday ducks: Incipient flying and baby turtles

July 15, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Well, it’s been about seven and a half weeks since Audrey and her brood of 12 arrived at Botany Pond, and so we’re at right about the time these ducks become able to fly.

We still have all 12, and as you can see in the four videos below, they’re huge now—almost the size of Audrey. You can also see that she is always present with her brood and always attentive. She’s the best duck mother I’ve ever seen, which I suppose goes along with her thuggish tendency to attack other broods that enter the pond. (Her babies are becoming thugs, too, chasing the “itinerant” hens that hang around the pond.)

The “babies” have begun flapping their wings as if about to fly, and they tend to do this when they run across the sidewalk. The flapping became very vigorous yesterday morning, and some of them even went up on their tiptoes. They tend to flap when on cement; I have no idea why this is so. It may be because it gives them a long solid run, though they don’t run the length of the sidewalk when flapping.

All videos by Jean Greenberg on the morning of July 14, 2022.

I often wonder, when they’re flapping like this, whether they somehow know they’re going to fly (from watching other ducks), or are merely exercising an instinctive flapping urge that eventually will take them into the air. For sure they don’t know they’re practicing to fly, though!

Note that the last one goes up on its tiptoes.

I really, really hope we can see a first flight, or at least an early one. Since I’m a duck parent, or godfather, to me that would be equivalent to seeing a baby’s first steps. The first flapper in this video is trying hard to get off the ground!

The other news (I’ve been slow putting up duck photos, but I will) is that we found three very tiny red-eared sliders—turtles of the species Trachemys scripta elegans—on the pond in the last week. They are so small that they simply cannot have been put into the pond by people, as you can’t buy red-eared sliders this small. (I suppose it’s possible that a breeder put newborns in the pond, but that doesn’t seem likely.) As per Greg’s instructions, we’ve measured them and will do further checks when the sun allows us to recapture them. In the meantime, have a look at these cuties!

A baby turtle on a rock (all turtle photos by Jean Greenberg): To give a sense of scale, I’ll put another picture below this one:

Since these are likely to be newborns, their presence is of natural-history interest, for Chicago is pretty much north of the normal limit of their breeding range. The species is native to the Southeast and South-Central US (range map below), and their ability to breed is limited to where their eggs can survive the cold winters in a nest. Greg and I marked two new nests last fall and dug them up this summer; and none of the eggs (5 or 6 per nest) had survived. The presence of at least three Tiny Turtles, seen simultaneously the other day, strongly suggests that they can breed here. We’ll write up a small note about this for one of the herpetology journals.

I’ve circled the baby below (click, preferably twice in succession, to enlarge the picture) so you can compare its size to that of the other and older turtles nearby. They’re all sunning themselves, and I have no idea how these tiny ones (there are at least three) get atop those rocks. They are tenacious, though.

Here’s a map of the native range map of the species. But they’re now in many other places since they’re invasive and are also easily introduced since they’re the most purchased and most exchanged species of turtle in America. I bet a lot of us had one as a kid (I did), but they usually die from improper care, as mine did.

One in my hand:

And my hand and a ruler for scale (we’ve measured them with measuring tape now). This one was only about 3 cm long (shell length), or a bit more than an inch.

An upside-down view showing the plastron (lower shell). The spots on the plastron can be used to diagnose an individual. Greg pointed out that the rear part of the shell is discolored, which may indicate either a developmental or a nutritional problem. I’m supposed to squeeze the shell gently when we do one more capture of these to see how pliable it is (there should not be much “give” in the shell of a healthy baby and none in an adult).

Have a great weekend!

10 thoughts on “Friday ducks: Incipient flying and baby turtles

  1. Those baby turtles are so cute. They remind me of the baby painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) I would find near my Binghamton, New York childhood home every spring. There was a big pond (an oxbow lake cut off from the Chenango River) near my house, where I fished and explored almost every day. (This was before it was decided that every adult was a potential pedophile and kids were allowed to explore outside on their own.) There I caught bass, sunfish, pickerel, carp, brown bullhead, crappie, shiners, and creek chubs with my Zebco 202 fishing reel. I caught frogs, turtles, salamanders, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, fireflies, and monarch butterflies with my hands. Once I even caught a 30-pound common snapping turtle with my finger. (Don’t ask, but it was stupid.) Fortunately, the finger remained attached to the rest of my hand, but I can still see the scars! Those were amazing times.

  2. Re. the sliders: “I bet a lot of us had one as a kid (I did)”

    And some of us still have them as middle-aged adults. 🙂 Those hatchlings are adorable…my 3 are all grown up…one I’ve had for over 20 years.

    The duck videos were a hoot. Have you ever seen any of “your” ducklings make their first flight? I would imagine that you have, but I inferred from your comment that you hadn’t experienced it.

    1. I have seen them make short, early flights, but I’ve never seen a first flight. Indeed, I’m not sure if I could tell if I saw one, as I’d have to be watching the ducks all the time. Still, I haven’t seen any duckling flights, so I’ll take my first sight of one as a first flight.

  3. The natural range of the red-eared slider, as shown, reaches northern Illinois, only 100 miles or so from Chicago. Successful incubation is plausible. Probably all males though.

  4. It doesn’t make sense. Why do I feel all happy, delightful, and even “in love” while looking at a few videos (of ducks, not to say) sent to me by someone I’ve never met. And it’s not the first time!

    1. There’s just something about ducks, which is why duck memes are an internet favorite. All the members of Team Duck have gotten more and more enamored of them as they take care of them. Today one came over in the pouring rain to feed them, even after I told her that I’d do it (my office overlooks the pond). She said that she does it because seeing the ducks make her happy. And so it does with the rest of us.

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