The Dorm Ducks are gone!

August 28, 2023 • 11:30 am

I am elated to report that all ten “ducklings” on the dorm plaza have taken wing and flown away.  As we predicted from the condition of their feathers, they would be ready to leave last week—and, indeed, they made their egress over that week.

Last Monday: Nine ducklings (one had left over the preceding weekend)

Last Wednesday: Seven ducklings (two more left)

Last Friday: Four ducklings (three more left)

This morning: Zero ducklings and no mom (last four left)

Here is the very first shot (iPhone camera) I took of Marie and her brood; it was June 23, and they were only a couple of days old. All ten are crowded into their tiny pool (we immediately got larger ones). Food is on the right.

And from last Monday, August 21.  It was eight weeks from hatching to flight.  Marie is on the extreme right, still watching over her seven remaining babies. Hen mallards make terrific moms!

All we can hope for now is that every offspring has found a pond or other body of water with food. I can only imagine how they felt when they were first able to swim at great length, duck and dabble under water, do zoomies, hunt for food, and take to the air on their mighty wings. They’re doing what natural selection and their genes built them to do. If that means “happiness” for ducks, then they’re happy.

We are also a bit sad that they’re gone, but that’s far outweighed by the satisfaction of Team Duck in knowing that we saved every one, and that we did our job well.

Thanks to the other members of the team, Marie and Gracemary, for sharing the hard work of tending these fowl. And thanks to the woman in charge of the dorm who, after asking us for help, cooperated with us to get food and water to the brood three times a week.

Update on the patio ducks: they’re leaving to live as ducks in the wide world

August 25, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Well, our job of bringing up the University of Chicago Patio Ducks is almost done. As you may recall, mother Maria gave birth to ten babies about eight weeks ago, but they were trapped on the dorm plaza where they hatched.  Because the plaza is enclosed and freedom barred by an eight-foot wall, they couldn’t leave until they flew.

Thus three of us on Team Duck took it upon ourselves to rear them to fledging. This was no easy task, as it involved schlepping food and lots of water to the plaza three times a week.  But we fed them well, they grew and prospered, and now, eight weeks later, they’re able to fly.  And when they get that ability, they begin flying off the plaza, as Mother Nature is calling to them: “Time to live as ducks! You need to find a pond, fly, and swim!”

Here are some photos from August 23, when the ten had become seven (three had flown), and then from today, when only four were left. We’re all very happy that they’re healthy, flying, and leaving to live in nature.

A few pictures from Wednesday. Look how big they are! You see eight because mother Maria was here, too:

Their “swimming pool”. It was the best we could do, but I’m 100% sure they’ll prosper in real water where they can swim.

Based on beak color, we decided that there were five drakes and five hens: an even distribution of offspring. Watchful Maria is on the right; she was a terrific mom.

The primary flight feathers have now grown in and are full-sized. These puppies can fly, and we’ve seen them doing short flights around the plaza.

Walking around after bathtime. At the end you can see the big wings of one “duckling.” To think that when we started they were tiny yellow balls of fluff!

And pictures of the four left taken this morning. I expect that by Monday there will be either just one or two ducks left—or none. One of them decided to go swimming, and Maria was not there. (That doesn’t mean she won’t return to look in on her brood, though. She comes and goes, probably visiting a real pond when she leaves.)

They’re full-sized mallards:

The tub hog, a male. For reasons we don’t understand, the females flew away first.

The tub hog about to nap:

I can’t convey the satisfaction it brings us to see our efforts rewarded this way. Ten ducks, originally doomed, now will have full duck lives. I suppose this is like a parent bringing up an infant and then seeing it off to college, with the whole timeline compressed into two months! Thanks to Gracemary and Marie, the other two members of Team Duck, who worked like demons to help raise these guys.

More on the dorm ducks

August 4, 2023 • 12:30 pm

It’s Friday, so let’s have a butcher’s at the Dorm Ducks. They’re about six weeks old now, and all ten ducklings are thriving. Mother Maria is on the scene most of the time, and is a very attentive mom.  You’ll see how fat the little buggers are, and how much they’ve grown.  Blame the Mazuri Duck Chow, mealworms, and plenty of fresh water (about 20 gallons per visit), much of which we schlep several blocks in gallon milk jugs.  It’s not an easy job, but somebody has to do it.

Here are some photos and two videos from July 31:

Tub o’ ducks!

The ducklings like to lie on tufts of grass on the patio, even though there’s a whole lawn right nearby. But they like to stay close to Mom and their siblings.

The tub gets a bit crowded at times. . . .

But sometimes a lucky duck gets the tub all to itself. Here’s a video of one having a high old time swimming, drinking and ducking. We’d prefer a pond, of course, but that’s not available.

Napping on a tuft. Notice the closed nictitating membranes protecting the eyes.

The lovely Maria, who hatched all these babies:

More bathing, noshing, and preening in this video:

. . . and another shot of Mother Mary:

A baby in all its grown-up splendor. The secondary wing feathers are coming in, and today the primaries were visible.

Another improvised swimming pool. I used to use these containers in my incubators to keep my flies under high humidity. Never did I dream that they would serve as duck bathtubs.

Another duck update

July 25, 2023 • 11:10 am

The dorm ducks are still doing well, and we still schlep over a cart full of food and water to the dorm plaza three times a week. Here’s a full cart ready to go: there are about ten gallons of water, a large quantity of duckling pellets (also good for mom, though she flies off every day, presumably to feed and bathe in a nearby pond), some freeze-dried mealworms, and spare food dishes and paper towels.

Yesterday the whole brood of ducklings (well, teenage ducks) was waiting by the door, and when we came in they ran toward us. They were clearly hungry, and the first thing they did was eat a huge meal. While they were doing that, my job was to take the pools and water dishes, empty them out, and take them in the restroom to scrub them clean with soap and water. It’s a nasty job because the ducks aren’t particularly sweet-smelling (their leavings smell like fish!). While I’m doing that, the other members of team duck clean out the “swimming pools” and replenish them with water.  After that, I return with clean dishes and vessels, and we leave out a bunch of food and clean water.

By then the  ducklings have eaten their fill (for the moment) and they have a swim.

Maria, the mother, was there yesterday, and was watchful as usual. They’re all getting tamer, now to the point where I can dump fresh water into the small “pool” while a duckling is swimming in it. Here’s one having a fine old time splashing, dipping, and dunking:

Only about eight of the ten can fit in this pool, but yesterday we put a larger one (a “cement mixing tub” from Home Depot) in the shade on the grass, under a tree.

Maria is always between us and her babies, but she trusts us quite a bit now. She’s a great mom!

After food and a swim, the ducklings repair to a shady spot to preen and then have a nap. This order of tasks is invariant. Note Maria between us and her brood.

When Mom is there, they scatter about a bit, but when she’s gone they huddle close together. That’s clearly an adaptive behavior:

The lovely Maria and some of her babies:

Look, they have most of their feathers now! And we haven’t lost a duckling (“no duckling left behind” is our motto”).

They still have down on their backs, but they’re about 2/3 the size of Mom. Two in the pool. The one with the orange-yellow beak is likely a female (hen), while the one in the foreground, with more green in the beak, is probably a male (drake):

A snoozing duckling. Note the down on its back.

We’re going to have a hot three days this week, so extra water is called for.

Duck update

July 21, 2023 • 1:15 pm

We’re still schlepping a cart of water and food to the dorm ducklings three times a week. As you can see, they’re growing rapidly, and now have most of their feathers. Some are even flapping their tiny stubs of wings.  They are using their “pools” more, but come Monday we’ll put in a larger and deeper tub of water for them.

It’s a bit sad, because although we’ve kept the family together and the ducklings are thriving, they really should be in a place where they can swim freely. They haven’t had a normal duckling life. On the other hand, they’ve been protected and cosseted by the three Team Duck members since we first saw them. They are fat, healthy, and lively.

Here are a few pictures and two movies taken today and Wednesday.

Ready to drink:

Yes, these are scruffy teenaged ducks (Wednesday). Note the mixture of down and feathers.

Their nap after feeding (the first order of business) and after their swim:

Here’s a lone duckling enjoying a swim and then quickly leaving the tub for some lunch:

It took a few days for them to get brave enough to go in the tub, but now they can fit in there, but only eight at a time. The others wait their turn:

A closeup of the pile o’ ducks:

Lunch! Duckling starter chow and mealworms, which they love:

More napping:

A video of naptime. They preen, peep, and open and close their eyes. Not being dumb, they always find a convenient patch of shade:

The watchful Maria. She was there Wednesday, but today had flown off to have a proper bath and a swim. She’ll be back! She’s sleepy in this pic from Wednesday

And more pictures of the duckling pile:

Note the closed nictitating membrane on the duckling at left:

Yep, they’re in their awkward and unsightly teenage stage. The ducklings with orange beaks are probably females, with drakes having green beaks:

A drake to be!

Excuse me, but NO COMMENTS? If someone doesn’t comment, I’ll shoot these ducklings.

Our dorm ducks

July 19, 2023 • 1:15 pm

Two people from the University of Chicago Alumni group filmed Team Duck doing their tri-weekly feeding and watering of Maria and her ten babies marooned on the dorm plaza. ‘

Carrie and her friend Alonna came along with us and filmed the ducks, with Alonna turning the video into a remarkable summary of what it’s like to care for them, and in such a short film clip. We were all very pleased.  Click on the screenshot below to see the video, and be sure to put the sound up.

Here are some screenshots from the video. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!

h/t: Carrie, Alonna

Update: the Dorm Ducks

July 14, 2023 • 1:15 pm

We are feeding and watering the eleven “dorm ducks” (Maria and her ten babies) three times a week, and they’re growing like weeds. But I tell you, it’s a big job, as we have to cart all the food and water three blocks from my lab (there’s no hose). But our reward is that there are still ten babies (well, adolescents) and they look terrific!  MAH-VELOUS, in fact! Click the pictures to enlarge them.

Here are some pictures and videos. Thanks to the other two members of Team Duck, Gracemary and Marie, for their constant help.

First, Maria and her babies. She has a spectacular speculum (the flash of blue feathers on her side). They love the rain, as they can splash around in the puddles and hunker down with their bellies in the water. If there were a hose on the plaza it would be a lot easier, but all the irrigation is drip irrigation, so we need to cart over about ten gallons of water (along with duckling chow and mealworms) each visit: M, W, F.

The brood: ten—count them—ten!

A panorama of one side of the plaza with food and water. We have the same setup on the other side:

They like to crowd into water to have a bath and a drink. Here’s the first of two videos.

The lovely Maria. A great mom!

This is a bill identification picture in case she should return next year. We don’t want her to nest there, though!

A watchful mom:

We gave them frozen defrosted corn; they loved it!

Marie looking up; I think a bird flew over, but it wasn’t a raptor:

A lucky duckling gets its own tub, and then exits for a feed, followed by its littermates. They get only the best food: Mazuri Waterfowl Starter Chow (they’ll soon graduate to Duck Maintenance Chow) and freeze-dried mealworms, which they love.

The lucky duck:

Rub-a-dub-dub, seven ducks in a tub. We now have a bigger basin for them to swim in, and will increase the size of their “pool” as they get bigger (they have to be able to get in and out):

Wish us luck. If any U of C people are reading and want to volunteer to help, please get in touch with me.

And to think that I was looking forward to a duck-free summer!

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 9, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today is Sunday, ergo John Avise is here with a particularly winsome batch of baby birds, including two species of DUCKS.  John’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Baby Birds 

Depending on the species, avian babies come in several types ranging between two extremes: precocial and altricial.  Precocial chicks typically hatch with a full set of downy feathers and quickly leave the nest to feed and fend for themselves (often with parental guidance).  By contrast, altricial young hatch nearly naked and helpless, and require intensive care and feeding by their parents until they grow more feathers and eventually fledge.  Precocial babies can be very cute, whereas altricial babies often tend to be– well, rather ugly.  This week’s post shows several examples of cute and not-so-cute avian babies and other youngsters.

Barn Swallow chick (Hirundo rustica):

Tree Swallow chicks begging for food (Tachycineta bicolor):

Least Tern chick (Sternula antillarum):

Least Tern slightly older chick:

Least Tern teenager:

Snowy Plover chick (Charadrius nivosus):

California Quail chicks (Callipepla californica):

Mallard young chick (Anas platyrhynchos):

Mallard older ducklings swimming:

Ruddy Duck chick (Oxyura jamaicensis):

Canada Goose young gosling (Branta canadensis):

Canada Goose slightly older goslings:

Canada Goose teenager:

Eqyptian Goose chick (Alopochen aegyptiaca):

Egyptian Goose goslings swimming:

Eqyptian Goose teenager:

Our haul today

July 8, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Nine new ducklings: Amy the Library Duck’s entire brood. Believe me, we tried to get Amy and her brood to the nearest water (1.5 miles away), putting the ducklings in a padded but clear box so she could see them, and then walking towards the lake. She followed for less than half a block before flying away back to the nest.  And she was not leading them on their own to the water.  Nor would she let us get near her to catch her. (Catching adult mallards has always been impossible for Team Duck.)

After some futile attempts to catch the mother, who put on the first broken-wing display I’ve ever seen in a mallard, we gave up and took all nine (healthy and strong) babies to the rehab person.  This always breaks my heart, but it’s better than letting all the ducklings die.  We had three plans worked out but, as I suspected, we wound up, in the end, taking the ducklings to rehab—plan C.

Here’s our haul from this morning. (Please don’t ask me about alternative plans; we’ve thought of them all and had six people there dealing with the issue.)

BUT we are still tending a mother and her ten offspring on the plaza between two dorms, as the babies cannot escape until they can fly. (There’s a large fence.)  Here are Maria and her babies, whom we tend three times a week.  Note that these are older—probably at least two weeks old.

I’ll have a longer post about this in a few days—after I’ve recovered.

The patio ducks

July 4, 2023 • 9:30 am

As I noted about a week ago, a mother mallard has had ten babies on a second-floor plaza connecting two dorms at my University.  It’s a nice secluded space, large and complete with a cement sitting area and plenty of grass and tree.  But there is no way the babies could have jumped to the ground and found their way to water, as the plaza is ringed by an insurmountable wall.

Last year, when a hen nested and had a brood there, the only way I could think of to save them was to remove the babies from the mother soon after they hatched and take them to rehab. I did that, but when I lifted Mom off the nest and scooped up her babies, she went nuts, quacking and following me around as I carried the box out of the dorm. It broke my heart, and I still get quite upset thinking about it; but at the time it was the only way I knew how to save them. There was no way they could get to water, and I wouldn’t be allowed in the dorm regularly to tend the brood.

It turns out that mom re-nested there and had a second brood. Apparently the summer-school students decided to tend them, giving them food, water, and even a kiddy swimming pool, and, as far as I know, the babies survived, did well, and fledged.  (I didn’t get to see that but only heard about it.)

This year Mom did it again (I’m not sure it’s the same mother!), and a brood of ten appeared from a hen whom we’ve named Maria.  But this year there are no students in the dorm during the summer. The tending, therefore, falls to us.

What to do? Fortunately, the people at Facilities called me, knowing that I was the Duck Whisperer, and asked for help. I and several members of Team Duck went up to the plaza to have a look-see. Sure enough, there was a protective mom with ten four- or five-day-old babies. This time we decided not to separate mom and babies, but to go to the dorm at regular intervals and give them all food, water, and swimming facilities. That is a LOT of work, as we have to schlep food and water over there and clean out all the food and water dishes each time. (There is no hose, so all water is either brought over or taken from a very slow-runnibng bathroom sink.) But, being a hard determinist, I realize that I have no choice in this matter.  I must follow my motto, ‘no duckling left behind.”

And so Facilities has allowed us to visit them every couple of days to fill up the food and water bowls, and install swimming facilities.  We had one of our visits yesterday, and here are some photos.

A sign on the door to the plaza put there by Facilities. They are taking this matter seriously, which pleases me:

And an ironic sign on the outside wall:

Below, the layout: this is a second-floor plaza between two dorms (one on the right), and you can see that it’s large, isolated (and undisturbed in the absence of students), and has plenty of grass, trees, and bushes. Two members of Team Duck are enjoying the scenery. (This was several days ago when the ducks were hiding in the bushes to the right. Now they are used to our presence as we don’t approach them, and they know that our appearance means food and water.

We have put food and water dishes, as well as swimming tubs, along the wall that separates the patio from the grass. (You can see them at the base of the wall.) There’s a similar wall with dishes behind the photographer (me).

Maria and her brood. Yes, there are ten—count them—ten. A head count is the first thing we do each visit. She is a terrific mother, always standing guard over the brood. Note the small duck pellets we gave them to entice them toward the food bowls. (It worked.) The pellets are Mazuri Waterfowl Starter Chow—the best duckling food money can buy, and a complete diet. (We supplement it with dried mealworms.)

When it’s hot, as it was yesterday, the ducklings like the shade under the chairs, but I’m sure that when we’re gone they also go into the shrubbery. Note Maria standing by:

The ducklings have gotten bigger in just a week.  Here they are with their food and water bowls, as well as the big water-filled containers that serve for the nonce as swimming (or rather, splashing) facilities. This week we are going to put in much larger tubs in which they can all really swim, but we want to first ensure that they’ll be able to get in and out of them.  Right now there are four places to immerse themselves and splash, while the food and water dishes are to the side:

Maria may have seen a predator above, as she’s looking up, along with some of the babies:

We aren’t allowed a lot of time with the patio ducks, and so I couldn’t take many pictures. But as you see from their condition and full crops, they’re doing quite well.  Tomorrow we’ll go over again and take care of them, perhaps bringing the “swimming pool” (a medium-sized cement-mixing vessel from Home Depot). When they get bigger we also have a larger one for them. Fingers crossed!

And Amy the library duck is scheduled to hatch her brood in about a week. Now THAT is going to be more trouble, as they can jump to the ground from the window. What to do then? Normally I’d herd them to Botany Pond, but there’s no water in it this summer. I either have to catch the babies and get them to rehab, or put them in a box and try to walk them, with mother following, the 1.5 miles to the nearest big pond.  That is unlikely to work, but we’ll first try to keep Amy and her babies together.

After a very rough Duck Year last summer, highlighted by the depredations of Audrey the Killer duck, who would allow no other broods in Botany Pond, as well as my repeated entry into the water to save 31 ducklings who would otherwise have been killed (resulting in multiple injuries to me as well as a few bouts of swimmer’s itch), I had hoped for a summer’s respite. No such luck. But at least I don’t have to jump into Botany Pond this year!