Meet the new Botany Pond babies!

June 13, 2021 • 2:15 pm

Meet Shirley Rose with her ten ducklings, who jumped down to the pond on June 3:

The “fam” resting in a clump on the grass. Doesn’t Shirley Rose look proud? She’s been a great mother, defending her brood against all comers and rounding up any straggler ducklings who get lost and peep piteously for mom.

Why did the duckings cross the road? Who knows? Note the duckling stopping to drink from a mud puddle.

And the gang foraging in the grass at 13 days old. Their peeping is endearing.

Misty (named after the ballerina Misty Copeland because of the hen’s graceful neck and demeanor) hung around the pond all spring, and we didn’t really want another duck breeding there, so we never fed her. Nevertheless, she persisted, eking out stray duck pellets and nesting somewhere we don’t know. She appeared at the pond with five gorgeous ducklings on May 28, two days before Shirley’s brood appeared. Fortunately, the two groups managed to keep themselves sorted out, and there was no rancor (or ducknapping) between the broods. Both Misty and Shirley Rose are terrific moms.

Meet Misty & Co.: The very first few minutes in the water after their big morning leap:

Mom anxiously overlooking her brood:

Resting under the apple tree with Mom just two days ago, when it was hot. It’s easy to miss them as they’re cryptically colored, and the yellow and brown pattern makes the ducklings look like sun-dappled forest floor:

An afternoon nap:

Misty giving her babies diving lessons on June 4, when they were just a week old:

One day later, the brood practices more dives. A big ol’ turtle nearby doesn’t care. Video by Jean Greenberg.

The two broods near each other on June 2. Misty’s are five days old, Shirley’s only three. Video by Jean Greenberg:

Duck news!!

June 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I haven’t reported the fact that in the last two weeks we’ve had two new crops of ducklings (a total of 15), as it’s very crowded with people on campus during graduation and I didn’t want to draw a lot of folks to the pond who might disturb the ducklings. (I do, however, spend a lot of time explaining ducks to those who show up and spot the babies).

But the babies are now past the sensitive stage, and I’ll soon show some pictures of our two new broods: one from Misty (five ducklings) and one from Shirley Rose (ten ducklings). I have lots of adorable pictures, as well as video and some bonus video of our turtles courting each other in the pond. The other thirteen are now teenagers and, I calculate, should start flying within two weeks. I’ll have photos of those as well.

I’m also very happy to report that all the ducks, young and old, are coexisting without rancor, something I was really worried about.  Further, Honey has reclaimed her brood of four, and they’re a tight little family again, although her “babies” now look like miniature Honeys.

In the meantime, have a picture of one of our new ducklings, as well as one of me feeding Honey out of my hand just this afternoon.

It’s hot  today, and all the ducklings, both new ones and teenagers, are having a snooze in the shade.

One of Misty’s five ducklings on the day it entered the water for the first time.

Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) feeding mealworms to America’s most famous mallard (photo by Jean Greenberg):

How I spent my afternoon

May 31, 2021 • 1:15 pm

While hanging out at the duck pond for some waterfowl meditation, I was accosted by two women students who came to the pond. One was holding a newborn duckling (not necessarily a mallard) that had been found outside a Starbucks two blocks away. The duckling was following some people, and had obviously lost its brood.

The students, who apparently knew who “Jerry” was, and that he had something to do with rescuing ducks, needed help, and who am I to refuse? “If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.” A quick call to Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and we drove the poor thing a few blocks to a rehab expert, who will have it sent tomorrow to Willowbrook Wildlife Rescue Center, which rescues native wildlife.

Here’s a member of Team Duck holding the baby before we drove it to the rehab lady:

And a close-up. I’m not 100% sure it will make it, but I’m 100% sure that if we didn’t have it rehabbed, it wouldn’t have made it.

Now, what species is this? A friend says it’s definitely not a mallard, but may be a wood duck.

Here’s a photo of wood ducklings from the Endless Wonder blog (photo by Duke Coonrad). It does look like a woody:

And here’s Honey, who’s still around. The drakes seem to have been leaving her alone, so he’s able to spend time with her four “babies”. Unfortunately, their time apart has made her a bit diffident, so she snaps at them from time to time. She may just be old and grouchy.

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.

Another duck hiatus

May 23, 2021 • 1:10 pm

Duck farming has becoming almost insupportably difficult these days, making it hard for me to think about, much less write about, les affaires du monde. I am exhausted, distraught, and foodless, though the ducks are all alive and healthy. No lunch for two weeks: no time!

Bear with me as the situation develops. We may even have another new brooding entering the pond before too long, in which case I take a header into the mud.

Honey is terrified, her babies largely abandoned, and Dorothy has turned psychotic, expelling one of her own brood “the Pepper”, who forages and lives alone and whose welfare, along with that of Honey’s oft-abandoned four ducklings, is our utmost concern.

So, if you want to discuss anything EXCEPT DUCKS, you can do it in the comments below.



Readers’ wildlife photos and video

May 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

We have a Saturday potpourri of videos and photos today, with all contributors’ captions indented. Click on the photos to enlarge.

First, a bunneh from Graham Martin-Royle:

As you’re getting short of photos I thought I’d send this one in. Prey animals quite often freeze when they think they’re in danger in the hope that they don’t get spotted (I know you know this, I’m just trying to explain this photo). This rabbit saw my friend and I approaching in this dry gulley in southern Utah, back in 2018 and froze, allowing us to get up pretty close.

Can you spot the rabbit?

Visiting foxes from Randy Schenck:

First, an adult in April:

Jerry,  Foxes in the front yard about 7 am. today.  There were three all together, two adults and one about half grown.  Wish I could have gotten a picture of all three but no luck.  Not a good window looking out front for photos.

This is urban Wichita, Kansas.

So all three foxes were back today, May 1, 2021.  Arrived about 7 am and stayed maybe ½ hour.  This is probably because we put out some food (five big dog biscuits) for the foxes.  The first two photos are of the pup or smaller fox.  The second photo also shows he is carrying one of the dog biscuits.  Having the food out there really did the trick and we will probably try again tomorrow.

A balancing rock from Bryan Lepore:

I am sharing a photo of Balance Rock in Pittsfield State Forest, MA (easy to read about on the Internet). I am sharing this because the rock is amazing, and also because photos I found on the internet are rather weak :

And from Bryan Tarr: a mother and ducklings in Poland. This warms my heart; I wish only that my own ducklings were so well behaved. I count ten.

I had the good fortune to see a mother with her ducklings recently, this time in Radzyń Podlaski near a small stream. I managed to grab my phone just in time to catch the second half of their hurried journey past me.

Sunday ducks

May 16, 2021 • 3:00 pm

Just a few snaps of our resident hens and their broods. Here on “Duck Plaza” are Dorothy (foreground) and Honey (background) with their broods of ten and four, respectively. In a rare moment of amity, they are napping just a few yards apart. Note the critically important duck fence that keeps people from disturbing them.

Dorothy napping but also keeping a weather eye open for her nearby brood:

And Dorothy’s adorable brood of ten in a Duck Pile. They’re napping, and several have their nictitating membranes closed for sleeping, giving the eye a white appearance.

Thursday ducks

May 13, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Just a brief update: all the ducks are doing well: Honey still has her four and Dorothy her ten, and although they’re still wary of one another, they are not aggressive. The babies are growing like gangbusters and show every sign of vigor and health.

So, two pictures. First, Honey’s brood:

And then Dorothy with hers, learning from Mom how to preen themselves.

Ducks and a gosling rescue

May 12, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Due to a lot of sweat and labor on the part of Team Duck, Honey’s four babies and Dorothy’s ten are doing well, though they’re still wary of each other.  Here are a few snaps, and also photos of a rescue of two young goslings.

Dorothy and her ten learning how to groom and sit on the “duck ring”:

Learning to sit on North Duck Island:

Honey and her four remaining babies (I think they’re all safe now) on Duck Plaza:

This morning on of the departmental employees found two newly hatched goslings in the street in front of our building. I was told that two “ducks” had been found, but these were HUGE and clearly geese. They were in good shape, and probably part of a brood that jumped from a rooftop (two others have been found in the street in the same location, and all four were taken to rehab):

I arranged for Chicago Bird Collision Monitors to take them, and thanks to the kindness of two workers, they were taken in for rehab, probably to join their brothers and sisters.  They seemed to be in very good shape.

This is the first time I’ve ever held a gosling. They are big, soft and sweet:

The two we took to rehab:


More death on Botany Pond

May 9, 2021 • 7:34 am

I regret to inform you that Honey has lost two more ducklings. I found two small fluffy bodies on the North Duck Island this morning. I don’t know if they were pecked to death or suffered from inclement weather (it’s cold and rainy). This is a devastating loss as I thought the ducks had reached a detente yesterday, though it could be the weather.

That’s all I have to say. My beloved hen has only four tiny babies, and who knows if they’ll survive?

All of Dorothy’s ten appear to be alive.