Monday: Duck pics

August 10, 2020 • 2:30 pm

The duck news is pretty good: Dorothy and her six babies are all in excellent shape, and, after her molt, she and her kids are all about ready to fly. I expect to see some rudimentary flying within ten days or so.  Honey comes and goes, visiting the pond for about two days at a time, and then leaving. Lord knows where she goes, but when she’s here I feed her well: a three-course meal of duck chow, mealworms, and corn. She remains the Queen of the Pond, with no duck able to displace or chase her. She, on the other hand, is dominant over all other ducks.

And we have varied numbers of visiting ducks, mostly hens but also some drakes who haven’t “greened up”. The “pensioners” range from 12-20 in number, and since I can’t bear not to feed them (not to mention that it would be impossible to withhold food from them while trying to feed Honey and Dorothy and her kids), they’re eating me out of house and home. I spend way more on duck food than on my own food! But that’s okay by me: I get great pleasure farming ducks. The crop this year is good.

Here are a few recent pictures (videos to come).

Dorothy, with the dot on the right side of her bill clearly visible.

Dorothy preening:

Note the distinctive spotted left side of her bill, which may come in handy for identification next year:

A wing shot. Her flight feathers aren’t fully grown in, but they’re getting there:

Her beautiful speculum:

One of her babies resting on the Sacred Mound. It’s hard to believe that just 7 weeks ago they were tiny little yellow fuzzballs. Now they’re “mini ducks”: freshly minted and beautiful mallards.

Note how far back on their body their legs are. This is ideal for swimming, but not so great for walking, which is why ducks waddle on land.

And remember, just a few weeks ago these juveniles looked like this:

One of Dorothy’s babies nibbling the algae off the back of a turtle. They enjoy these portable snacks.

An itinerant Dali duck with its bill open:

And a slightly out-of-focus but weird-looking brown duck:

We have a new mallard at the pond whom I call “Rudolph”, after Rudolph Valentino. Although he’s not yet greened up, he’s the handsomest mallard I’ve seen yet: dark of feather and huge of size. I’m hoping that he’d become Honey’s boyfriend, but she shows no interest in him and seems to be hanging around with a less handsome duck. Who knows what hens want?

Sunday Duck o’ the Week

August 9, 2020 • 7:45 am

Evolutionist John Avise provides his weekly contribution to our knowledge of waterfowl: the Duck o’ The Week. The object is to guess the species of duck from the photos. (All the ducks are found in North America.) Then click below the fold to see the identification, some fun duck facts, and a range map.

Here we go:

Click “read more” for the ID, facts, and a range map: Continue reading “Sunday Duck o’ the Week”

Duck doings: August 4

August 5, 2020 • 1:30 pm

In lieu of anything substantive to report, I present yesterday’s duck doings. We had about 15 hens, including Honey and 14 itinerants (some may be her offspring who have returned), as well as Dorothy and her six ducklings, for a total of 22 ducks. That’s a lot of duck chow! Fortunately, everyone’s getting along pretty well, though Honey, as the alpha female, is irascible when eating and won’t tolerate other ducks nearby. She’s also started to make little grunting noises while eating, perhaps to keep the other ducks away.

Here’s Dorothy, the proud mom who sat on eggs for two months to finally produce her own family. She’s grooming herself on the duck island after lunch.

Notice the serrations in her bill (above), which are used like the baleen of whales: to expel the water and filter out the edibles. Her are some enlargements:

Bill, right side, showing the dots that gave her the name Dorothy:

Bill, left side, good for future identification:

The big ducks (we call them “pensioners”) like to engage in watersports after meals, just like the ducklings. Here are a few pensioners diving, zooming, and splashing yesterday.

Dali ducks! Look at those fat S.O.Bs, crops swollen with fancy duck chow and bellies drooping over the water. Sated, they’re napping on the south island. Their nictitating membranes are closed.

One opens her eye for a second. It’s an easy life in Botany Pond, I tell you.

Here’s a longer video showing Dorothy and her Band of Six having fun after lunch. Look at those ducklings go! (They’re not really ducklings any more, but “miniducks”.)  Can you tell the difference between Dorothy and her kids?

Sunday: Duck report

August 2, 2020 • 1:00 pm

It’s been a while since the last duck report, and even today’s isn’t totally up to date. Suffice it to say that Dorothy and her six babies are doing well, and the babies are now “mini-ducks”, having lost all their down and become smaller versions of their mom.  Honey was here until yesterday, but now I can’t spot her among the 15 or so itinerant hens and molting drakes that hang around the pond for noms.  I hope Honey comes back (her primary feathers weren’t completely grown, though she could fly), for I’m not ready for her to leave yet. Her brood of 17 has long since departed, but many new ducks have arrived, and I can’t be sure if any of them are Honey’s offspring coming home for a visit.

Have some duck photos and movies.  First, the awkward teenage phase of one of Dorothy’s, but with the beginnings of their lovely blue speculums. This was taken on July 26:

A really messed-up-looking juvenile duckling a few days earlier: a mixture of baby down and small adult feathers.

And three of them:

Here they are having a postprandial preen and bath (click on all photos to enlarge):

Dorothy and babies on the Sacred Mound: the now-defunct clump of grass that was every duck’s favorite resting place:

Mom and brood on the mound, two with bills open.  You can see from Dorothy’s raised wings that she’s molting, as she lacks primary feathers:

The gang’s all here:

After meals, especially in the afternoon, all ducks like to preen, dive, zoom, and splash. Here is Dorothy and her kids having some fun (notice that Dorothy joins in):

Imitating mom in a postprandial grooming session on one of the rings:

Here’s one of Honey’s offspring (remember, half of them were actually Dorothy’s babies whom Honey kidnapped). This was taken July 26 when these lovely young ducks were flying away. Look at that shiny bill and fresh new feathers!

Here’s Dorothy’s brood eating algae off some surface, and I suspect it’s the shell of a turtle:

Morning feeding is at 6:30, with two reliable Duck Farmers who like to feed Dorothy’s young ones. Here’s one of the babies approaching the feeding site: the end of the channel.

The adult ducks having a bout of postprandial zooming, splashing, flapping and diving, which is really a treat to watch. It’s not just the babies who do this; I can’t help but think that the ducks are just having fun, reveling in their duckitude.

When ducks are full, the food sits in their crop to digest, and it looks as if they have a goiter. Sometimes they hang their swollen foreparts over the edge of the pond. I call these “Dali Ducks,” after the painter’s drooping watches. Here are a few photos of Dali Ducks.  This is one of Honey’s brood:

Another along the bank. If they’re big enough, they can stretch their necks down to the water and get a convenient drink:

One of Dorothy’s young ‘uns practicing to be a Dali Duck. Look at that swollen crop!

A video of a Dali Duckling (one of Dorothy’s) taken by Jean Greenberg:

Here’s a vigorous bout of carousing by both big and little ducks; video by Jean Greenberg.

Too many ducks on the pond! This morning we had Dorothy and her six along with 15 itinerants a total of 22 ducks. (Last year we had 28 ducklings of three ages and three moms at once: a record of 31.)

The layout of Botany Pond has a narrow channel to the north. The big ducks had a play session there the other day. Video by Jean Greenberg:

A well fed and happy itinerant hen:

And we mustn’t forget the Cooper’s Hawks,  who have been worrying us for weeks. There are two parents and a family of three living nearby, and sometimes they swoop over the pond. But they show no interest in chowing down on ducklings, for which we are grateful:

Duck pics

July 26, 2020 • 2:15 pm

I have a ton of duck pics and videos, but it’s too damn hot to make a long post: I’m going home, take a nice shower, and maybe enjoy a 45-minute nap.

But here are two pictures from the pond on this steamy afternoon. First, one of Dorothy’s six babies in its most awkward “punk juvenile” phase, mostly feathers but with some down on the back and head, forming a Mohawk (the new brood is five weeks old today). It’s all messed up but IT HAS ITS FIRST SPECULUM FEATHERS (circled in second picture)! Within three weeks they should be taking their first tentative flights.

And one of our several Cooper’s Hawks (Accipter cooperii) with its tail fanned out. Mercifully, they aren’t bothering any of the ducks.

Monday: Duck report

July 20, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Honey’s brood is largely gone: the other day we were down to her (she’s molting and can’t fly), one offspring, and two itinerant hens. But lately, ducks have been returning, and judging by their behavior (grouping together and following Honey), up to five or six of them might be her offspring. We also harbor between 2 and 5 itinerant mallard hens, who don’t get along with Honey’s brood, so there’s a lot of chasing and non-hurtful aggression. I feed everyone as I can’t single out just Honey for food (she won’t eat much now, anyway.)

On the Dorothy front, her six babies are growing, with feathers coming in fast. They’re now in the awkward teenage stage, but are still adorable. Dorothy has proved to be a good mom in the end, protecting her brood, rescuing any stray ducklings who start peeping for mom, and chasing away all other ducks save Honey (who’s still the alpha female). Everyone is happy and well fed.

Today we’ll show the last videos of Honey’s full brood and some photos of Dorothy’s brood as they enter duck puberty.

The first video is from June 18, when Honey’s brood was about six weeks old. They were going to fly within a week, but only short hops at first. Here they are foraging.

What a big group she raised! (Remember, half of them were originally Dorothy’s brood.)

My beloved hen Honey, whom I’d like to band with a gold engagement band. . . Note that she’s lost her flight feathers; this photo was taken on July 8 when all of her offspring were able to fly. Mother mallards molt after their babies fly: it’s a good time to change feathers since there’s less need to protect your babies. All mallards molt once a year because their feathers wear out from flying.

June 18: Honey’s brood dabbling. Bottoms up!

By June 18, Honey’s mixed brood were beginning to exercise their wings quite often. When walking around on the sidewalk, they’d gain extra propulsion by flapping. At the end of this short video a hearty baby does a Big Flap.

By July 13, just a week ago, about half of Honey’s brood had flown away, and the remaining ones practiced flying in the afternoons. They seem to get very frisky after meals.

Onto Dorothy’s brood, the object of most visitors’ interest in the pond. Her babies were not only cute (as are all ducklings), but people are intrigued and saddened at the story of how Honey purloined Dorothy’s babies, but then gladdened when they hear that Dorothy re-nested and had her own “starter family” of seven (now six). I’m so glad that Honey tolerated them, giving Dorothy had the experience of bringing up her own brood.

Here are two typical poses, with Dorothy and her brood resting on the bank. She watches them like a hawk (see below), chasing off any stray adults who come near. The ducklings like to stay together in a pile.

This picture was taken about three days ago; note that the ducklings have developed rather extensive feathers on their shoulders, wings and tail. Within a week they should be fully feathered.

We’re always wary of the family of Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) that lives nearby. There are five of them: two parents and three babies. But they seem to ignore the ducks, even though sometimes the hawks fly right overhead (or even roost by the pond), emitting unearthly shrieks.  Occasionally this freaks out the ducks, which utter an alarm quack and then all freeze in place.  I believe the hawks realize that they can’t take the ducklings. At least I hope not!

Here are two views of what I think is one of the parent hawks; this was taken yesterday.

Dorothy’s ducklings reach a milestone

July 15, 2020 • 10:30 am

Yesterday I noticed for the first time that Dorothy’s ducklings, now 3½ weeks old, are starting to grow their adult feathers, so their duckling down will gradually disappear. The feathers start on the shoulders and wings (looking like epaulets) and also on the tail, and move forward and backwards till the two fields meet.  Here are a few pics of this milestone: the duckling equivalent of adult teeth:

As I’ve mentioned before, a family of Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii; mom, dad, and three babies) live about a block south of the pond in a tree, and all of them fly around the pond, sometimes emitting an eering screech and occasionally perching in trees right above the ducks. The ducks, of course, hear or see them well before I do, emitting a warning quack that gets all of them in the water, where they freeze until the hawk is gone. Although a Cooper’s can’t, I think, take an adult duck, I fear that the babies are potential prey, though I haven’t seen any attacks. (Dorothy did lose one duckling a few weeks ago, though.)

I keep my fingers crossed and yell and clap at the hawks until they fly away.  I ask readers NOT to give me information, videos, or photos of Cooper’s hawks attacking ducklings. That would upset me, and I already assume that they could attack the babies and do the best I can to drive away the raptors. I hope my assumption is wrong.

Here’s a hawk (not sure if it’s an adult or juvenile) that perched in a tree right above where Dorothy and her babies were being fed. It stayed there a while but didn’t attack:

Monday duck report

July 13, 2020 • 2:00 pm

I have some videos of Dorothy’s babies (yes, still six) preening, dunking, and engaging in other watersports, but I’ll leave those until later this week. Today I’ll try to catch up on the photographs.

First, the red-eared sliders, which are coming out often in the heat:

 

No matter how old these are, they always look ancient (and wise):

A formal head shot of Honey, the most famous mallard hen in America (or so I like to think). Her bill pattern is distinctive, though it’s darkening up a bit as the season progresses.

Honey began molting around two weeks ago, right when her youngsters began their first awkward flights. Here you can see, in contrast to her offspring in the rear, with those big wing feathers, that Honey has lost her primary flight feathers. For a while she was flightless, but they’re growing in and, when a Cooper’s Hawk flew over the pond yesterday morning, and Dorothy sounded a “QUACK” alarm, all the ducks flew out of the pond, including Honey! Even without fully-formed feathers she was able to fly.

The hawk, by the way, appears to show no interest in ducks or ducklings, but often munches on songbirds as it sits perched in a tree next to the pond. But I am wary, and the ducks even more so. (A pair of Cooper’s Hawks fledged three babies in a tree only about 150 yards from Botany Pond.

Part of Honey’s brood dabbling. They’re finding more of their own food these days, having less interest in my yummy duck pellets. Honey eats very little from me, but still loves her corn and mealworms.

Her brood was originally 17, but they’ve been leaving in ones, twos, and three, and, yesterday, in fives. We’re down to Honey and five offspring today.

Honey’s brood sacked out in the water on a hot July 4. Remember, less than two months before this photo was taken, those full-size ducks were just hatching. How they’ve grown!

Here’s a photo I took of Dorothy on June 5 to verify her identity. And you can see the black dot underneath her right nostril that gave her the name “Dot,” which became formalized as “Dorothy”. At this point she was coming to the pond sporadically and then disappearing, sometimes to various windowsills. But I didn’t know she was re-nesting.

On June 22, much to our surprise, she produced seven ducklings from her old nest on the third floor. As I’ve related with sadness, one of them disappeared (a predator?), but the remaining six are big and thriving. Dorothy seems proud, and I like to think she’s happy to have her own family at last. After a rocky start, she seems to have shaped up after losing that one duckling, and now she’s an excellent mom, guarding her brood and chasing away every other duck save Honey, who still rules the pond. (Don’t forget that about 8 of Honey’s brood were actually produced by Dorothy.)

Dorothy’s brood on June 25, when she still had seven. That was the day when they learned to get up on the bank by walking the Duck Ramp. (Dorothy looks proud!)

One of Dorothy’s at the “most adorable” stage:

After we lost one, now there were six. Here they are resting in the grass as Dorothy stretches a wing. Note how they’ve grown.

July 9: At a bit more than two weeks old, the fluffballs have become fuzzy little ducks. They stay together onshore, and Dorothy guards them nearby, either from the front. . .

. . . or from above. Four days later (just this morning), they’ve lost more of their fuzz.

Dorothy’s ball o’ ducklings. Their crops are distended as they’ve just had a meal (I feed them 4 times a day):

 

In a few days: videos!

It’s too damn hot! (Duck photos)

July 6, 2020 • 1:15 pm

It’s 90°F (32.2º C) at the duck pond now, and, having fed both broods—we still have six offspring from Dorothy’s second brood, but Honey’s juveniles are flying away daily, so we’re down from 17 to 10—I’m covered with sweat. It’s too damn hot to do anything, and, as you’ll see below, the ducks know that, too. They’re sacked out in the shade and having occasional sips of pond water.

I’m tired and dripping and too exhausted to brain (the Pinker post yesterday did me in). So enjoy these latest duck photos.

Three itinerant hens who frequent the pond as a group. Exorcised by both Dorothy and Honey, they’ve befriended each other. Here they’re having a rest in the heat:

Honey’s brood (look how big they are!) sleeping in a shady stretch of water. They don’t often sleep on the water like this:

The rest are on the cement pond rim. I call them the “Dali Ducks”, as they sometimes slop over the edge like Dali’s watches. When they’re thirsty, they reach their necks down for a sip of water:

Dorothy and her babies in the shade. The little ones like to rest under the hostas:

They’ve learned to walk up the duck plank to get out of the channel and onto land. I’m so happy that Dorothy, whose first brood was purloined by Honey, got another chance to have a family of her own. For a while it was touch and go, with Honey being aggressive, but the two broods now tolerate each other warily, and soon almost all of Honey’s babes will be gone. It’s been only two months since they hatched!

This little bugger just had a big meal, accounting for its huge, swollen crop (no, it’s not a goiter, and no, it’s not overfed, just digesting):

Like last year, Honey begins molting when her babies start flying away. You can see in these two photos that her primary wing feathers are gone. She cannot fly.

And a comparison with one of her offspring (foreground), which has its primary feathers crossed over in the rear. Honey won’t get her feathers back for at least two weeks, so she’s a bit skittish and secretive. She gets extra mealworms for protein to rebuild her plumage.

Note that all of her offspring look alike: you can’t tell the drakes from the hens, and won’t be able to for a few months. The only way to tell is how they sound: if a juvenile quacks, it’s a female. (Drakes can’t make the classic mallard “quack”, even as adults.)

Dorothy’s kids always stay clumped when ashore. I love the little leg sticking out in the heat!

 

Proprietors’ wildlife photos and videos: Tuesday duck report

June 30, 2020 • 7:45 am

UPDATE: Feeding everyone at the pond this morning, we could count only six ducklings with Dorothy. We found no stragglers, heard no peeping of lost babies, and could find no bodies. It’s pretty clear that one has vanished, and I suspect predation (perhaps raccoons or Cooper’s hawks). I am heartbroken.

___________________________

It’s been a while since I weighed in with a duck report, so here it is. All is pretty well on Botany Pond: Honey’s 17 babies are all still there, and, on  4X/day feedings, have grown HUGE. Moreover, they’ve started flying: not huge flights, but short hops in the pond and from the bank to the pond. Their primary feathers are large and they’ll soon be flapping higher up, though when they’ll fly away for good is anybody’s guess.

Dorothy still has her seven babies, which jumped from the third-floor ledge 8 days ago. They’re eating ravenously, though I have to say that Dorothy isn’t nearly as good a mom as Honey, and doesn’t keep her brood together very well. (I spend a lot of time herding errant ducklings back to the brood, which is very stressful.) Fortunately, Honey and her Flotilla are leaving Dorothy and her brood pretty much alone, so I am cautiously optimistic.

I thought I’d show the equipment and supplies I use to keep the ducks going. The three green trash containers are full of duck food, the tan bag is what I use to bring food to the pond, there is a bag and three boxes of mealworms, as well as masks to wear to the pond, and there are four spare “duck signs” about herons, pond rules, etc. The two boxes at the far left have equipment for rescuing and sequestering orphan or removed ducklings, though I haven’t had to do that for a while. As you see, it takes a village! I spend a lot more on duck food than on Coyne food!

Honey, alone and with her brood:

Overlooking her 17 ducklings, only half of which have her genes. Honey is at left keeping watch.

Sometimes she sleeps, but not often during the day:

Here are five short videos from Jean Greenberg of the brood in action. Diving practice on June 13:

Before they flew, the ducks engaged in vigorous wing-flapping as they walked—all practice for flying.

Watch to the end to see the Big Flap:

And at last—FLIGHT, after a bit more than six weeks. Not an impressive flight, to be sure, but they’re still airborne for a short time.

And some short flights in the pond.

Honey’s gang isn’t eating as much of my vet-grade food as before; I think they’re into dabbling for pond food big time, and that’s good:

We mustn’t forget the turtles. Many of the big ones leave the pond to walk away, and, not knowing how they’ll survive, I put them back. Perhaps they’re trying to breed, and maybe I should let them be. Do any readers know about this?

I haven’t forgotten about Dorothy’s new family, but that’s a separate post. Here are three teasers (they’ve learned to use the duck ramp to come ashore).