Ducklings climb Everest

July 21, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Many is the hour I’ve spent at Botany Pond trying, through force of will alone, to get little ducklings to jump up on the bank from the water. This is why I asked for two duck ramps to be constructed. Fortunately, all the little ones make it in this video.

There’s a hiatus in writing as there’s not much to say, and I’m not going to write filler. Stay tuned.

p.s. This duck video is NOT filler!

Sunday ducks

July 18, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Things have settled down at Botany Pond now as half the broods have flow and the others will do so in a month or two. There have been no new broods since Coco brought her three to the pond (they’ll be a month old tomorrow). We also have Shirley Rose and her vigorous brood of ten, who are fully feathered and will be flying soon, as well as one juvenile from either Honey’s or Dorothy’s brood (the others have gone). And we have good old Shmuley, who still hangs around with Honey, and Honey herself, who has lost her nasty side and is often timorous. (I worry that she’s becoming a Senior Duck.) There are also about five itinerant undocumented ducks; these may be hens whose nests failed (we had three of those) or simply interlopers. And there may be the hen who brought three babies to the pond that were attacked. I rescued two of them and took them to rehab (I found one dead the next day).

So there’s been lots of drama, but across the morning sky, all the ducks are leaving. Here are a few pictures.

Honey’s brood of four. At least three of these have now flown away, though Honey is still here and hangs around with Shmuley. Fine-looking young mallards, no?

Shirley Rose is up for Duck Mother of the Year for constantly monitoring and tending her brood of ten.  Here she is with her brood (I’ve circled her). She’s either in the lead or following them, and they tend to stay together very closely. Remember, these were born on May 30, so they’re about 7 weeks old:

Shirley’s gang resting among the hostas under the tree. Note Shirley standing guard:

Shirley Rose’s brood zooming, which I think is their practice for taking off from the water. I call it “rowing” now.

Flying practice on July 5. I haven’t seen one actually take to the air yet, but they flap their wings constantly. It won’t be long (video by Jean Greenberg). They still don’t know that they can fly!

Shirley Rose’s brood dabbling (snarfing the bottom for food) on July 15:

Another video by Jean Greenberg. In this one Shirley Rose takes her brood back and forth across the sidewalk. Don’t ask me why!

And here’s Coco with her tiny brood of three. She’s a very diligent mother, always overlooking her babies and chasing away anybody who comes close to them. I will ensure that they all fledge!

Coco and her brood have climbed the duck ramp and are having a postprandial rest on the bank.

Sometimes the babies huddle up together like a group of hot dog buns.

Resting on the duck island (note that the babies have their nictitating membranes closed and are asleep). Coco is preening, and the other duckling is behind her.

A close-up of one of her ducklings the other day. They’re starting to get scruffy, and do note that their adult feathers are starting to grow in—as “epaulets” on the small, stubby wings:

Coco’s brood practicing their diving skills on July 14:

Oy: another duckling rescue!

July 11, 2021 • 3:00 pm

This time I rescued two newborn ducklings, but circumstances were different from what happened two days ago.

At feeding time this afternoon, we noticed a huge fracas in the pond: Coco had abandoned her babies and was attacking something. It turned out to be a tiny, one-day-old duckling whose mother had brought it and one other sibling to the pond.  It was one of the most vicious duck attacks I’ve ever seen, and I knew I had to do something to stop it. (Coco is a most aggressive duck.)

Coco and the other ducks had driven the mother away, and the two ducklings, frantically swimming around and peeping, stood no chance of living were they to be left with mom.  One, exhausted, finally lay almost unconscious in the mud, while the other kept swimming, all the while with their mother quacking frantically for them across the pond.

There was nothing to do but rescue the two babies, who were in the main pond, and remove them from their mother, for catching her was impossible. I didn’t want to go into the water again, but this time i didn’t have to. I picked up the one exhausted duckling from the mud, and managed to catch the other in my fly net as it swam along the edge of the pond.

As soon as we had both, we carefully dried them off with paper towels and tissues, and I put them by the space heater in my office to warm up and dry off. They soon became more lively and vigorous, almost jumping out of the big box.

We then drove them to the nice rehab lady in Hyde Park, and she said they’ll be taken to the Willowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary tomorrow morning. They looked to be in pretty good shape despite the near drowning of one.

As I walked past the pond to my car, I saw the mother of the two swimming around frantically, quacking for her lost babies. That broke my heart—that is what Dorothy did after Honey kidnapped her babies last year. And Dorothy hung around quacking for a week before she accepted her fate (and re-nested). There’s no sadder sound than a mother hen calling to her lost babies.

But we had no choice: had we not removed the babies from the pond and from their mom, they wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes. It is a bittersweet ending, but at least the two have a chance at life. It is that, more than the sadness of the mother, that matters most.

Other news: the six that I rescued two days ago all survived their first night in good shape, and are safely ensconced at Willowbrook.

Here are the two we just saved:

I could use a little less drama at the pond. It’s physically demanding and emotionally draining.

I rescued six ducklings!

July 9, 2021 • 12:30 pm

So get this: after duck feeding time this morning, three guys from Facilities came to the edge of the pond with a cardboard box. By the time I had walked up to them to find out what was going on, they had already dumped six newborn mallards, without a mother, into the pond. They apparently had rescued the babies from a sewer.  When I told them they shouldn’t have dumped the babies into the pond, as they would die for sure, they blew me off and said, “Oh, somebody will adopt them.” And then they walked away.

Not a chance in hell of adoption, of course: the adults immediately came over to attack them. Had the facilities guys just handed me that box of ducklings, i could have immediately driven it to the rehab person.

There was only one recourse: I changed into my “duck rescue clothes”, which I didn’t think I’d have to don this year, and waded into the pond channel with a fly net.

It’s hard to rescue baby mallards, for when you get close to them they dive and swim underwater for many feet, surfacing in a random spot. That, of course, is adaptive antipredator behavior, but it makes it damn hard to catch them. The water is up to my waist, and there are several feet of mud on the bottom, not to mention rocks and tree roots (I did it barefoot). It was a tough job.

Finally, after 45 minutes in cold water with a slimy, muddy bottom, I got all six! I was so happy! I was helped by two people: my duck colleague Jean Greenberg, who dried off each duckling as I caught it, and a very kind passerby named Sarah who helped guide me to the little ducklings as they surfaced. Sarah, I didn’t get your last name, but get in touch with me if you read this.

After I got them all, and they were dried, I took them to the Chicago Bird Collision Monitor rehab woman in Hyde Park, who will have them taken to the Willowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary tomorrow.

So that’s been my day. The ducklings may not all survive, but they surely would all have died in the sewer or the pond. So I am feeling good.  I did rip my scalp open on a branch while wading in the water (the ducklings tend to hide under low-hanging tree branches), but a few weeks of antibiotic cream should fix that.

Below are several of the babies after Jean dried them off. They’re clearly newborns.

Look at these cuties! Now they are six.

People! DO NOT DUMP BABY DUCKLINGS IN A POND! THEY WILL DIE FOR SURE. THEY DO NOT GET “ADOPTED”.  And if you’re in Hyde Park and have a baby mallard or any other injured bird, please get in touch with me, and I’ll ensure it’s taken care of properly.

There will be no more postings today as I’m exhausted, injured, and have no energy left. But it was worth it for sure.

Wednesday duckling

July 7, 2021 • 12:00 pm

I’m still in a bit of a malaise after Dick Lewontin’s death, so posting is light today. And there’s not much to say, anyway. So here: have a shot of one of Coco’s lively trio of ducklings. Coco is a great mom, and usually keeps the three very close to her. This one got away for a short while, and is peeping for Mom.

They reunited seconds later. Isn’t it adorable? Today they’re two weeks and two days old—past the most dangerous age. More photos and video soon.

Thursday ducks: a new but small brood!

July 1, 2021 • 1:30 pm

On June 21 we were doing our morning duck feeding and noticed that there was a mom with three tiny ducklings by her side, floating in the water at the south end of the pond. It was a new brood that had clearly jumped into the pond less than an hour before! It’s the smallest brood we’ve had, and perhaps the last for the season. We’ve been monitoring other nests in the area, and they all seem to have been abandoned or destroyed by raccoons.

I didn’t announce the birth at the time because I didn’t want people flocking to the pond and disturbing the babies.

So meet Coco (so named because this is brood #5) and her three babies, with the first photo taken within an hour after they jumped into the pond from the windowsill. They’re doing great: the other ducks don’t even notice them. Coco is a great mom, ready to fiercely go after any other duck that comes near. And they’re all eating well.

Coco and her brood on Hatch Day, essaying the “Waterfowl Starter Chow”:

The babies learned to climb the duck ramp within only one day, which is wonderful as it gives them a chance to rest and get dry. They are now eating heartily and getting bigger:

Coco snoozing with her trio o’ babies:

Together on North Duck Island:

We mustn’t forget the others. It’s been a good summer: all the ducks are getting along, nearly all the pesky drakes have left, and nobody bothers Coco and her brood.

The original two broods, Honey’s four and Dorothy’s ten (plus the Peepster) have all grown up, and are starting to fly around tentatively, taking off only a foot or so. Honey seems to come and go, as she is wont to do when her babies are grown.  She’ll soon molt, as will the other breeding mothers, and be unable to fly for a few weeks.

The second pair of broods, with Shirley Rose’s ten and Misty’s five, are also thriving, but have reached the scruffy teenage phase, when they have grown a lot of their feathers but also some down. Here are some pictures of Shirley Rose et famille. This was taken about a week ago, and they have considerably more feathers now.

They are scruffy ducklings, with feathery wings and tails but with down in between and on their pates:

This was the same brood photographed about two weeks before the picture above. Shirley Rose is in the foreground:

Shirley Rose’s Armada preening on the center duck ring today:

And a video of some dabbling for food in the mud. These birds won’t be flying for another four weeks or so.  Note that their feathers are well developed in most areas but they still have fuzzy butts.

Here’s Dorothy with her graceful neck. You can see the dot under her right nostril that gave her the name “Dot”, which turned into “Dorothy”:

And a juvenile dabbling. Bottoms up!

And the reptiles: our pack of red-eared sliders getting some sun this afternoon:

More duck news soon!

Friday ducks (and turtle lagniappe)

June 18, 2021 • 12:30 pm

All is well and peaceful on Botany Pond, with the two cohorts (four broods) getting along well. First let’s see America’s Most Famous Mallard, Honey, in a formal portrait. She has been with her four ducklings for several weeks now, after a satanic drake drove her away from her brood for about two weeks (they had to take care of themselves, but we made sure they were fed). For some reason that drake left, there was a grand reunion, and now they’re back to being a family again.

Honey smiling:

Honey swimming:

Honey’s four scruffy teenagers:

Honey, her drake Shmuley, and one of their offspring, who in this photo is getting up there with tail feathers and a rudimentary speculum.

A video of Honey and her four getting out of the main pond (one has a bit of trouble) and crossing the sidewalk to get to the channel on the other side.

Here’s Dorothy, who had 11 ducklings originally. We lost one, and she expelled another (the “Peepster”) from the brood). The Peepster was alone and sad, chased around a lot by other ducks, and peeped a lot, but we fed him well and he’s managed to bring himself up to nearly a full-sized duck. He’s going to be fine, despite his status as a pariah.

I’ll show the photos as Dorothy’s babies grow up. Newborns:

Dorthy’s brood as it ages. Here she is sitting on them on a chilly day.

On warmer days they huddle together but don’t need Mom to sit on them for warmth. But ducks are social creatures and the broods stay together until they get older and fully feathered.

The brood slightly older, starting to grow feathers:

The feathers start as “epaulets” on the rudimentary wings, and then on the tail, and then grow backwards and forwards to meet.

Look at these ugly ducklings!

Dorothy’s brood just yesterday—fully feathered but without large primary feathers on the wings, so they won’t be flying for about a week or so. Dorothy is in the foreground, right—attentive as always.

Here’s the Peepster about two weeks ago, looking sad and scruffy as his feathers begin coming in. No other duck likes him—he’s the lowest duck in the pecking order. Despite that, he’s developing just like his sibs and will be fine.

Here’s Dorothy’s Armada flapping, diving and splashing after their lunch the other day. Notice that their wings are larger, but still not full sized. (Video by Jean Greenberg)

Shirley Rose crossing the path with her brood of 12. We lost two of these, but since then she’s been stable at ten. Make way for ducklings! Note the baby having a sip from a muddy puddle.

Courtship of the turtles.  These are red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), of which the pond harbors several dozen. Greg told me that the small one is a male, and he has special large claws on his forelegs that he uses to stroke the female’s face during courtship. He then goes behind her in a mating ritual. We’re too far north for this species to breed, but they still try. (These turtles undoubtedly descend from pets that were put into the pond. They can thrive here, but it’s too cold for them to nest and breed.

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.