Duck Mating: No picnic at the pond

April 19th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Earlier this spring, Mrs PomPom was the target of domestic drakes

Once mating is initiated, nearby drakes pile onThe mating season is in high gear at the Brighton millpond now. If you spend an hour watching the ducks, you’ll see drakes chasing drakes, flapping fights between rivals, and possibly a swarm of ducks in the water in what is often interpreted as murder-in-progress even though it’s not.

The pairings will continue through early July and some ducks will have two successful nestings by the end of summer. When it’s over, there will be many injured and exhausted ducks not to mention horrified park visitors. Mrs PomPom (above) was the first victim of brutal attacks by domestic drakes. She has been removed from the pond after receiving a severe eye injury last week.

A mob of Mallard drakes attack a hen to mate with her

A mob of Mallard drakes attack a hen to mate with herDucks don’t bond for life. Most barely bond for the entire mating season. In winter and early spring, ducks pair up. You’ll find most ducks are paired now. Hens do the choosing. Their efforts to find an attractive, strong drake last a couple of months before the males pay much attention to their head bobbing and clucking.

Once the drakes hormones start to flow, they bicker with rivals over their selected partners and yet they aren’t particularly effective. There’s lots of partner changing and sneaky dalliances by drakes.

Rival drakes are chased off to cut the odds of success Up to eight drakes were involved in this attack

Thirty percent of all duck couplings are forced. If the chosen partner is there, he might just watch because, once a coupling begins, all nearby drakes join the party and he can’t do anything about it. I’ve seen as many as 13 drakes attack one hen in encounters lasting ten minutes. Sometimes females drown, slam into obstacles (including fences and moving vehicles) fleeing males, or become severely injured. Leg and eye injuries are common; feathers are ripped from heads and necks. Hens aren’t the only victims. Weak males are also attacked.

A mob of Mallard drakes attack a hen to mate with her A Mallard drake mates with a hen The hen gets traction to leap out of the pond

The hen swims to shore to avoid drowningIt’s called “duck rape”
Each spring I write several posts about it because park visitors are upset when they witness it. I’ve seen people attempt to stop it – throwing things, yelling, waving their arms – if the ducks are in the water. On land, people rush to separate the participants even kicking drakes. They don’t realize this is natural. It’s what ducks do. Looking at it through human eyes, it’s violent and unnecessary.

Freed, the mallard hen rushes to shore“I just don’t want to see any animal get hurt,” was one park visitor’s response when I explained what was going on last week. Sorry. Nature doesn’t consider human needs when it’s ensuring species endure. Male lions kill rival’s cubs; opossums have up to 20-30 babies but only have 13 nipples so many starve; some baby birds shove fellow chicks out of their nests.

The strategies seem unfair to us yet Mallards are prolific. Their mating tactics are extreme, but the species thrives either because of their violent methods or in spite of them.

Feathers are ripped from the hen's head and neck

Meet Charlotte

April 18th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Ty trumpets his dominance of his realm

Charlotte is as beautiful as TyTy, the Brighton millpond’s newly arrived cob (male mute swan, above), has bonded with a pen (female mute swan) he found somewhere in a nearby pond. I’ve named her Charlotte which was Ty Cobb’s first wife. I began writing this post in late March, but Charlotte disappeared shortly after I started preparing this post so I put it on hold. After a week or so, Ty was with another swan and I assume it was the same pen. There were no identifying marks on either of his partners.

Ty is obviously from another park. He's very friendly with humans.Ty is obviously a bird who is fond of handouts offered by humans. Within a week after arriving at the millpond, he was approaching humans feeding the ducks and geese to get what he felt was his fair share (left).

Ty attacks Maggie and chases her out of the pond Ty probably came from another park. Wild swans wouldn’t be as friendly, but don’t get the idea he’s a softy. Once Charlotte arrived, he and his beloved made life miserable for Maggie, the immmature swan that had settled into the millpond before either of the other two birds arrived.

Maggie hides at the edge of the pond to avoid Ty and Charlotte

I got reports from several people that Maggie was resting in parking lots because she was chased out of the pond by the bonded pair. I personally saw Ty viciously attack and chase her through shoreline saplings that could have injured her feet and wings. Fortunately, she was rescued before she was injured or killed.

The two seem to be settled now though I haven’t seen any serious nest building. Usually by now, swans have selected a location and have begun to gather cattail reeds and other plant life to build a massive nest that’s at least 6′ in diameter and about a foot above water level. Cygnets (swan chicks) are usually born in the beginning of June in this region so they still have time, but one of the birds might be too young to start a family. That would please Michigan’s DNR that is in the process of reducing the mute swan population in our state from 15,000 to 2,300 within the next decade or so. They are considered an invasive species and a threat to our alleged native Trumpeter Swans.

Charlotte and Ty are beginning to court

Raising a family isn’t simple for swans. Nest building takes 2-3 weeks then an egg is laid every 12-24 hours until the entire clutch is completed. Then the swans will share incubating the eggs from 35-45 days with the average being about 42. Young birds take a lot of care until they can fly 120-150 days after hatching. Swans are protective parents and can be downright aggressive which is one of the reasons DNR is reducing the flock.

King Arthur was the resident cob on the millpond for many years. After he was found dead in January, 2014, another pair nested in the pond that summer but fled after two of their six cygnets died. We never found out where they went. King Arthur was a favorite and had success raising families, but rarely did they survive due to the appetites of our resident snapping turtles. In the last three years of his life, only one of his cygnets was known to survive until it left its parents before winter began.

Charlotte searches for tidbits while Ty watches over her

So don’t expect great success from Ty and Charlotte. If they happen to raise a thriving family, it will be a pleasant surprise for you to watch them grow.

The Rescue of Mrs PomPom

April 12th, 2015     3 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom's right eye is encrusted shut from mating stress

Mrs PomPom’s condition went from bad to horrific this past week (above). By Saturday, her right eye was completely encrusted in dried fluids as the result of incessant attacks from the Brighton millpond drakes. I called Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary Saturday evening to arrange for her rescue. Fate found Matt & Theresa Lyson, the founders, in Brighton. Within five minutes, they were on the scene and with the help of Ian Anderson, PomPom was quickly cornered and captured.

Once wrapped in a towel in the arms of Theresa, she calmed down (below). The Sanctuary will begin treatment for her wounds and eye condition. If her condition requires it, she will be taken for veterinary care and I will cover the cost.

She’s was dumped at the pond four years ago. That’s a long run for a domestic duck dumped in with wild ducks. You can read about her many adventures on this blog including her first successful brood last September. Two of the three surviving ducklings have reached maturity and still reside at the millpond. Not only will she be missed by her four drakes, many millpond regulars will mourn her departure. They provided her with food and care over the years.

Mrs PomPom is caught to receive medical attention at Michigan Duck Rescue Michigan Duck Rescue's Theresa holds Mrs PomPom who is very relaxed after her capture

Mrs PomPom has lost her Easter bonnet

April 5th, 2015     12 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom has already lost her crest so early in the season

Note her neck and eye woundThe night before Easter and Mrs PomPom has lost her bonnet. She’s a far cry from how she looked in October, 2011, a few months after arriving at the Brighton millpond. The Brighton millpond has a severe shortage of female domestic ducks so PomPom is the apple in the eyes of too many male suitors.

Spring has invigorated the boys and even though PomPom has four suitors, they offer her no protection against the advances of other Pekin drakes who indulge in conjugal visits. She already has wounds on her neck and right eye. The wounds will get worse as the mating season drags on for at least three months. I hope she nests early so she has time to heal.

A well organized rabbit

April 5th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

The Easter Bunny is perfectly calm the night before delivering baskets

April 3: You’d think the Easter Bunny, a year-round resident at the millpond, would be frazzled the night before departing to deliver baskets, but look at her.* She’s cucumber cool. Her secret? Preplanning. She assembles the baskets in winter while she remains in her burrow most of the time.

I hadn’t seen her for several months and was glad to find her near the fire station Friday night. Her organizational skills are quite amazing considering she doesn’t own a computer or a Bic pen. Where do you think she stores all of those eggs and chocolates? Think of all the egg dying and ribbon tying tasks she has. Magic has to be involved.

*Yes, the Easter Bunny is a female (aka doe) although she impersonates a buck for the festivities. The ruse wards off amorous advances from male rabbits while delivering baskets. You’d have figured that out if you gave it any thought. Would a self respecting buck be caught dead in that pink and lavender outfit with floral trim and sequins?

Don’t buy Easter pets

April 2nd, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Don't buy Easter pets unless you can provide them with the care they need for ten or more years

Each year, some farm supply stores stock cute ducklings, bunnies, and chicks. It’s difficult to walk by them without wanting to buy one. Heck, they only cost a few bucks and food is inexpensive. What impulsive buyers don’t realize is they are committing themselves to ten or more years of pet care.

Last year, at least 9 domestic ducks and a rabbit were dumped at the Brighton mill pond. In 2013, 17 domestic ducks were abandoned there. Most were probably purchased as amusing Easter gifts, but within two months, they are fully grown poop machines requiring lots of attention, shelter, and maintenance.

Well meaning owners are then faced with what to do with their unwanted pets. They think placing them in public parks is the perfect solution. Their ducks will find friends there and live a delightful life. The reality is that domestic ducks have a life expectancy of less than a year when thrust into wild ponds. They don’t forage well especially in winter, are harassed by the resident wild ducks, are fed junk food, and often die violently in the mouths of predators or on the bumpers of passing vehicles. Last year, at least five domestic ducks died crossing Brighton streets, and four domestic birds were eaten by a coyote in downtown Brighton 20 feet from Main Street.

A group of dedicated (and hearty) volunteers look after dumped birds so they tend to live longer in Brighton than elsewhere, but they rarely receive medical attention if they become injured or sick. Their lives are shortened by unthoughtful per owners who subjected them to uncertain futures. The only way to prevent such cruel treatment of birds and bunnies is to not buy them in the first place unless potential pet owners fully understand the care and commitment they are making for what may be more than ten years.

Millpond muskrats in rut early this year!

April 1st, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A muskrat cruises the Brighton millpond looking for something, anything, to mate with

I was fortunate to be at the Brighton millpond Wednesday night to photograph the annual spring muskrat rut. The bulls have rubbed the velvet from their antlers and called in the females (aka cows) with their haunting bugling.

Once the cows assemble, the males cruise the pond to find a hormonally receptive female who finds his antlers, acrobatic swimming, and breath-holding irresistible. The males are quite inventive with their aquatic antics while spending a good part of the night chasing rivals away from their intended partners.

The bull muskrats are currently terrorizing all of the Canada geese, their favorite target because they are wussesIf a Canada goose crosses a bull’s path, the testosterone-charged beast visciously attacks it. Canada geese are a favorite target of rutting muskrats even though they are five times larger. Though they are impressive hissers, rodents know geese are easily intimidated wusses. After a few impressive seconds of honking, splashes, and vigorous wing flapping, the bulls always win these skirmishes. Nearby cows find these displays of virility highly arousing. Ducks, being smarter than geese, find the rut rather amusing and stay clear of the feisty fur balls as they pick their partners. They know life at the pond will return to normal by dawn.

I attribute the early rut to either global warming or George Bush. Normally, when the first of April comes around, the Mallard and rodent communities are competing in the Millpond Muskrat Cross-Country Steeplechase Endurance Classic.

 

Grace has died

March 18th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Grace hops very well and quickly comes to me knowing I have food for herI received word from Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary that the millpond duckling named Grace (2014 Brood 23) died yesterday. Cause is unknown. By amazing coincidence, a family stopped me at the pond on Monday to ask me how she was doing. They had met Grace as I held her in my arms so she could be taken to the sanctuary in October.

She was given shelter there following a brutal attack by a turtle when she was only six weeks old in September. To everyone’s amazement, she survived the shredding of her foot and leg and was keeping up with her siblings with only one leg. As weeks passed, however, her young leg wasn’t strong enough to support her growing body. By October 12, she could no longer hoist herself up and was scooting along the ground on her belly.

With careful attention at the sanctuary, Grace grew into an adult drake who greeted his human caretakers each day by standing tall on his one leg on the picnic table (15-second video below). What? A drake? Soon after her arrival at the sanctuary she started to grow iridescent green feathers on her head indicating she was a male. I had mistakenly pegged her as a female while naming her. The sanctuary modified her given name only slightly by renaming her Gracie to honor the family of UFC world champions.

You can read about Grace’s young life at the millpond, and see other posts about Gracie after he arrived at the sanctuary and befriended Angelena. It was a short life, but it was far longer and better because of the sanctuary’s dedicated care.

The collapse of the ice tunnel

March 18th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Bright afternoon sun is reflected at the crest of the Brighton millpond dam

On March 8, the millpond dam was still covered in thick ice and snowFor most of the winter, the cascade at the Brighton millpond dam is concealed by ice that forms above it (right on March 8). Once the air temperature reaches the mid-40s, the tunnel begins to deteriorate from its underside as warmer water — just a degree or two above freezing — splashes against it.

The warm days has increased the flow of water over the Brighton dam
Thawing of the ice on the half mile long millpond and upstream increases the flow of water over the dam which also hastens the collapse of the ice tunnel. It happened this past week so now the sound of the tumbling water is louder and the cascade is hurrying the melt toward Lake Erie (top and left). It’s a welcome sound and signals spring is approaching.

Even when we get more cold nights during the next six weeks, the tunnel won’t reform. I’m thrilled to report it won’t reappear until next November or December unless the sun dies. If that happens, none of us will damn about the dam anyway.

Pinkerton’s Pizza Picnic

March 18th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Pinkerton nibbles his pizza as a Mallard hen passes

Like most humans, muskrats love carbohydrates, but they are empty calories and shouldn't be left for them

The Ides of March were good to Pinkerton, the Brighton millpond muskrat with the pink-tipped tail. Someone left pizza for him near the dam.

He was quick to find it under the pine tree and transported it to the straw-covered ice island beside the small bridge for a twilight repast. The island all but melted in the following 24 hours due to the 60 degree day so it was fitting he had meal there to commemorate its pending demise. Even though muskrats are active all winter, I’m sure they are more relaxed once open water returns to their realm and they can explore the pond search for things to fill their bellies.

Pinkerton's signture tail abnormality is clearly evident in this shot

Pinkerton can be seen traversing the southern end of the millpond on most evenings sometime after sunset. He comes searching for handouts the ducks have either missed or refused to eat. Pizza isn’t on the duck’s food pyramid; they don’t have teeth to chew. The rodent is happy to oblige so Brighton’s excellent maintenance crew don’t have to clean up edibles the public has left behind.

Scout looks for leftovers on the cement bank near the damWhile Pinkerton was nibbling, another of his species arrived (right). He has no unique physical characteristics to identify him (or her) so from this point forward I shall generically refer to any muskrat near Pinkerton as Scout. It may be his mate, offspring, sibling or rival. The two seem to be on friendly terms so I think they are related. There are 10-15 muskrat families residing at the pond. Each has its own territory and behaviors. Pinkerton and (I believe) Scout live in a burrow past the Tridge next to the cemetery. Due to the number of people they see each evening, they aren’t skittish like most muskrats. If you don’t make sudden moves or noises to frighten them, they’ll carry on their foraging and chores while you watch or photograph them.

Scout checks the sky and land for predators while on the straw island

Gravity confounds Ty

March 17th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Ty is a fine specimen of a mature mute swan

This close up shows the unique coloration of the berry above his billUnlike Maggie who is a lackluster hostess, Ty usually greets visitors arriving at the north end of the millpond. He’s not a student of physics, however. As an aviator, you’d think he’d have a solid understanding of gravity. Yet, if you toss him duck chow, he watches it leave your hand but doesn’t follow it to the ground. He’ll just stare at you.

If he looks down, he’ll notice food there and eat it, but he fails to grasp it’s what was just tossed to him. Ducks comprehend the relationship between tossing and landing. Perhaps Ty can learn from them if he finds a mate and sticks around the pond long enough.

He’s a magnificent mute swan and maintains his feathers well. The close up shows the unique markings on the “berry” above his bill. They will help us identify him in the future. I got a report that a third swan was sighted at the north end one day this week, but I haven’t seen it. It might have just been passing through.

As the world turns, the ice rots

March 17th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Cracks lace through the ice plate at the south end of the Brighton millpond

Each year, the Brighton millpond ice exits differently. One year, it “candled,” a term I didn’t learn until a friend raised in the Upper Peninsula explained it to me. Candling is shown in the video produced on the Yukon River (below). This year the ice is quickly rotting with cracks forming through it. The ice plate spanning the pond near Main Street floated upward after disconnecting from the concrete edges. The sun warms the concrete and melts the underside of the edges until the weight of each chunk breaks free of the ice plate.

Happy Campers: The millpond opens

March 17th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

By March 14, 50 yards of open water was found

It doesn’t take many warm days for the Brighton millpond to begin clearing ice. The water flowing under it, coupled with sunshine from above, opens the area near the dam and north end culvert first.

The north end of the millpond only had a 4' circle of open water on March 8thOn March 8, only a 4′ circle of open water existed at the north end of the pond (right). The only reason it was that big was because of Colleen. She had taken it upon herself to break up the ice that formed nightly on it. Now she can take the next ten months off. In less than a week, the bathtub-sized pool took on Olympic proportions (top). Within another 24 hours, an additional 50 yards opened up giving the swans new areas to graze. The south end of the pond remains ice covered and slushy except near the dam. It will open gradually as the days warm and the sun shines.

Calamity tries to seduce her beau now that there is room to swimThe pond residents are already acting as if it’s spring since they don’t own calendars to tell them anything different. It’s anthropomorphic to suggest the wildlife is “happy” but they are certainly more active since they have room to roam. Instead of holding their breath while swimming under the ice, muskrats paddle along the surface tending to their endless chores (below).

Hens like Calamity (left) do their best to inform selected males the nesting season is fast approaching. The drakes aren’t as enthusiastic as they will be in another month, but some mating and courting behaviors are already in play. If you see heads bobbing or drakes chasing drakes away from their hens on your next visit, you’ll know they aren’t playing. It’s serious business as they plan families and stake nesting territories.

Muskrats are overjoyed to have be able to swim on the surface of their pond instead of under the ice

King Arthur and his cygnets were Polish

March 17th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Maggie doesn't relate to the other swan or the ducks and geese very well

Here’s a tidbit for future cocktail party banter: There are two color morphs for Mute Swans. When Maggie arrived at the Brighton millpond on January 16th, I was surprised by her mixture of tan and white feathers. The juvenile swans hatched at the Brighton millpond in past years were light gray when hatched by King Arthur and his mate. They grew white adult feathers by autumn.

Maggie stands tall but note her left wing may be injured or deformedI found in reading up on swans that Maggie is more typical than the millpond’s cygnets. Her coloration is of the more common “Royal” color morph. Birds with this trait retain their tan and white feathers until their second autumn. King Arthur and his broods were of the “Polish” color morph. They are born light gray or white and grow white adult plumage within their first year. Polish birds  have lighter colored legs and feet with a pinkish cast while Royal birds have darker gray-to-black ones.

Mute swans that without tan juvenile feathers were imported from Poland in the early 1800s where they had been selectively breed for centuries. There are advantages and disadvantages for both color morphs. In a nutshell: Polish cygnets have a higher mortality rate because their parents chase them off earlier while Royal cygnets stay with their parents longer which delays their breeding for an extra year or more.

Maggie doesn't interact much with the other millpond waterfowl

Maggie is obviously in her first year. She either lost her parents before she was ready to fend for herself or was hand raised by humans and dumped at the millpond. She doesn’t act like other swans I’ve observed. She remains isolated from the other waterfowl (above) and allows humans to approach. Consequently, I think there’s a good possibility she was hand raised and released at the millpond when her human captor found it too difficult to continue her care.

Franny: Belle of the winter ball

March 12th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

As Dazzle, Rusty, and Franny settle down for the night, Fred (left) stares at her hoping to win her heart

As spring approaches, the domestic drakes at the millpond are beginning to think of romance. It’s still at the fantasy stage, but they are sidling up to the always charming and vociferous Franny, the only surviving Rouen hen on the pond.

Dumpling finds Franny a suitable partner and often tries to catch her on short scampersDumpling hasn’t figured out how to win hearts yet. Rather than bobbing heads and staying in close proximity, he flat-out chases Franny trying to tackle her. The other night (left) was comical as Franny slid on the glazed surface of the snow with Dumpling in hot pursuit. She eluded him this night then clucking her annoyance to her bonded partners since they did nothing to protect her. Neither of the drakes have a chivalrous feather on their body.

Fred is quick to join Franny when she foragesSince SweetPea departed to spend her dotage enchanting drakes at Michigan Duck Rescue (She’s fine and has a new retinue of drakes wooing her, BTW.), Fred (right) has been at loose ends. He’s started noticing Franny has potential as the mother of his ducklings. For the past month, he’s been ingratiating himself to her well-established boyfriends, Dazzle and Rusty, and has slowly turned the triad into a quad; Franny and three suitors.

Dazzle and Rusty are oblivious to his intentions. Fred has a history of usurping the affections of hens. He elbowed past SweetPea’s beaus to win her heart two years ago. Now he’s employing the same nefarious tactics with Franny’s docile princes. It will all transpire within the next month. Hens will be sitting on eggs come April, and Franny will be among them. She lost two clutches last summer to raccoons. Maybe she’ll do better this year. If the tykes are thin with tan and white patches, you’ll know who’s their daddy. It probably won’t be Dumpling. He’s good at the chase but so timid other males usually push him aside.

Meet Ty, the new cob, at the millpond

March 3rd, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Sidenote: Some folks have emailed to ask if I’m still alive. I’m thrilled to tell you I am. The past three weeks has been the longest time I haven’t posted since this blog began five years ago.

I’ve still visited the pond and taken photos, but business commitments have not given me time to post them. On your next few blog visits, scroll below this post. I’ll be posting out of order. The dates will correspond to when things happened rather than when I post them. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Ty, the cob, arrived on March 1 to scope out the Brighton millpond

March 1: March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, right? Our lion is a male Mute Swan who arrived on the first day of this month. Wanda, one of the devoted duck watchers at the millpond, sent me the above photo taken by her cell phone, bless her heart.

Maggie, in the upper left, showed no interest in Ty

Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, Volume 1  By Guy BaldassarreMarch 2: I met the new swan last evening. I’ve named him Ty because he’s a “cob,” a male swan. While I can’t be sure, I think he’s a young bird searching for a mate, something cobs do January-March of their 3rd or 4th year according to Guy Baldassarre, author of Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, Volume 1, a book with fascinating facts about the species and their Michigan population, the largest in the Midwest (though our DNR isn’t happy about that). Google Books makes it impossible to link to specific pages. The above link gets you to the book. Go to Page 32 for the Mute Swan section.

Ty walked over to the food left for the birds while I was there last nightTy is a beautiful beast. He’s well fleshed out indicating there’s a chance he’s older than I’ve stated. Swans allegedly mate for life, but Baldassarre dashes that claim by studies in the above mentioned book. Duration of pairs is only 1-2 years for 50% of cobs and 53% of pens (females) of birds. Only around 20% of the birds remain paired for more than five years.

He's a beautiful bird ready for finding a mateWhether old or young, Ty is looking for a pen who can bring this year’s bouncing cygnets into the world. Will he stick around? I doubt it.

Maggie is too young to breed. She’s in her first year and most pens don’t sexually mature until 3-4 years old. She shows no signs of being interested in even palling around with her new millpond companion as you can see in the top photo.

It was even more apparent last night. Maggie was way off in the darkness (upper left corner, 2nd photo from top) at least 30 yards away from both Ty and the only five ducks roosting at the north end.

Note the unique orange on Ty's "berry" above his nostrils

It’s difficult to identify specific swans unless they have a unique trait. We are fortunate with Ty. Notice how his “berry” the black lump above and between his nostrils is half-orange on his right side. The other side is more typical being solid black. We’ll be able to tell if he stays with us throughout the approaching summer because of this. Don’t get your hopes up though. I think he’s cruising for a mate and might decide the Brighton millpond isn’t the place to find one. Still, he might like the location and fly back with a sweetheart to set up house. If that’s the case, Maggie will probably be asked to leave. Her dispatch won’t be gentle either. The term “bum’s rush” comes to mind.

Swan Lifeline and the Fairford Swan Aid, both in Great Britain, have well done short articles on their efforts to preserve swans in the UK. You might enjoy learning more about these magnificent birds which are native to Europe.

Mallard brothers

February 9th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Mallard brothers often near the Brighton millpond dam

Mallard drakes look alike. These two birds seen together near the Brighton dam are obviously brothers. Can you see why I know?

Look at their bills. The pattern of black on them is almost identical. Mallard bills have a full range of black markings on some of them from none at all to big splotches. When patterns are as complex as these, they are like fingerprints. Ducks usually have buddies, often siblings of both sexes, so these two are likely brothers. There’s safety in numbers; more eyes to spot danger so buddies can all flee at once in the blink of an eye.

The beaded edge

February 9th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A close up of the edge of the ice at the Brighton millpond dam

The small swimming area kept open by the ducks near the Brighton dam has some interesting ice formations. The ducks splash about and the water laps up onto the edge. Before it can drip back into the pond, it freezes into beads that catch the light of my flash. It’s one of the more beautiful phenomena of winter in our monotone world.

The wanderings of Maggie

February 8th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Maggie appears to be content at the millpond

Maggie is a high maintenance mute swan. On Thursday, she ventured onto Grand River Avenue and stopped traffic. Joyce, owner of the Wildernest store, got a call about it. She dispatched her employee, Tim, to herd the bird back into the pond.

Maggie is either a juvenile swan that became separated from her parents during a migratory flight so she has learned skills from her parents or was stolen from her family and raised by human hands until she was dumped at the millpond. Joyce and I currently think it’s the latter.

Joyce reports one of the pond’s frequent visitors offered the bird bread and she devoured it after turning up her bill at the duck chow I had been offering her since her arrival in mid-January. Waterfowl love bread even though it’s not good for them. The combination of rejecting duck chow but eating bread indicates she might have been raised on it. A bread diet might explain why she retains her battered juvenile plumage instead of growing pure white feathers by this time of year.

Straw has been brought to the north end of the pond by Kim and Colleen for duck bedding Straw has been provided near Maggie but she has yet to rest upon it

Other concerned pond visitors have reported her lack of fear when they approach to bring food or bedding. Colleen and Kim have brought straw at their own expense to provide insulation on top of the ice for Maggie, the ducks, and a pair of lingering Canada geese. Since the bedding is new at the north end of the pond, the wary birds avoid it. It takes several days for them to adjust to anything new in their environment. Eventually, they will learn it will keep them warmer if they roost on it to sleep.

Maggie rested beside the pond nibbling on pelletized food surrounding her on Thursday eveningMaggie was seen nibbling on pelletized food left beside her on Thursday. That’s a good sign and may improve her condition.

 

Impossible love

February 8th, 2015     1 comment     permalink

Florence finds Pollux (or Castor) charming and handsome

Poor Florence. For months now, she’s been wooing Pollux (or Castor). She preens his feathers, snuggles close to him at night, and does her best to break up his friendship with his best buddy. She doesn’t realize her adoration will never be returned. When mating season begins in a couple of months, her beloved will seek the companionship of a hen with compatible DNA so he can create little Polluxes (or Castors). Meanwhile, the other duck of the pair looks toward me to see if I might have some duck chow to spare as he stretches his wing.

Eating ice

February 8th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Dumpling nibbles on the edge of the pond ice Rusty eating ice at the edge of the Brighton millpond

January 31: The domestic ducks were seen eating the thin ice at the edge of their tiny bit of open water near the Brighton dam. Were they doing it just because it was there and they needed something to do? Did they like the crunching sound? Were there small, tasty bits of nutrients in it? Several ducks were doing it. Dumpling (left) and Rusty demonstrate it here.

Rendezvous with Maggie

February 7th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

I found Maggie roosting in the middle of Corky's Car Clinic's parking lot

Stephanie, the intrepid animal advocate from Brighton’s Park Place Salon, contacted me Tuesday evening about an injured swan in the parking lot of Corky’s Car Clinic at the northern end of the millpond. I wasn’t able to investigate until almost 2:30am. Yup, it was Maggie roosting in the middle of the lot. It had been plowed earlier in the day but now had an inch of new snow on the pavement. I could see her tracks walking to her current position and there wasn’t a blood trail so I knew she was able to walk without difficulty and had no fresh wounds.

Maggie showed no fear of me as I walked up to her I checked her over and found no sign of injury

I walked to within five feet of her. She didn’t budge. That’s not a typical response by a wild swan. I tried to coax her to get up with duck chow. She showed no interest in it. I’m not convinced she knows it’s food. I had seen her ignore duck chow as the ducks snarfed it down on several occasions during the previous two weeks of her residency.

Maggie looked in the bucket and showed no interest in the duck chow offered to her

The plow had built up a 3-4′ tall ridge of snow at the edges of the parking lot. She couldn’t see the pond. Since she’s a new resident, I wondered if she might not know where it was in relation to where she was roosting. I decided it best to lead her back to the water where she could graze on the submerged vegetation (Yes, it’s still there in the frigid water) and also be safer from predators than on land.

I felt like the boy scout in the old joke about helping an old woman cross the street even though she didn’t want to go. Maggie wanted to be left alone, but she was going to the pond whether she wanted to or not. If she stayed in the lot, she’d be dodging cars all day long.

How does one convince a swan to do something and avoid being bit or clawed? I employed a soft, nylon bristled broom I keep in my vehicle to sweep off snow. Maggie hissed and bit the bristles a couple of times as they gently nudged her to her feet and directed her toward the pond. She paused to lie down a few times to pull her feet up into her feathers to warm them.

Maggie tried to nap, probably hoping I'd go away and leave her alone

I’d let her rest for a while then use the broom to prod her to move closer to the pond. The city’s plows had made their first pass on the sidewalks and the pond’s boardwalk. In their wake, two foot tall mounds of soft snow were between Maggie and the pond. With insistent nudging, Maggie and I climbed over them to land in 10″ of powdery snow at the top of the embankment. Maggie looked down the slope but still needed encouragement to press on.

Maggie looked down the slope as if wondering how she was going to get down it She rolled on her side to expose a leg and shook the snow crystals off of it Then she looked back one last time and slid down the snow-covered slope on her belly

She took a couple of steps then roll to one side (above center) so she could get one foot above the snow line to shake off the ice crystals. She’d move a few more feet before stopping to do it again. Then she acted like a penquin and slid down the 8′ slope on her belly. It was a quick scoot and fun to watch. She left a wide trail in the snow (below).

Here's the trail she left after her slide Maggie's trail viewed from the boardwalk

Once back in the pond, Maggie took several drinks of water but ignored the offer of duck chowAfter a moment’s rest, she entered the water and took a drink.

I threw duck chow down but Maggie just watched as the dozen ducks and a pair of Canada geese picked the pellets out of the snow. Maggie drank more and poked at a couple of ducks. I left her knowing she’d be safe for the night, if she didn’t wander off again.

The north and south of it

January 31st, 2015     0 comments     permalink

The southern flock has enjoyed the straw scattered near the dam this winter

January 24: A strange winter, indeed. The alleged “coldest week of the year” has just passed and it was warmer than usual. No one is complaining including the Brighton millpond ducks. As usual, there are two sub-flocks wintering on the pond — the earthbound domestics are near Main Street where they can get their vittles from the generous public (above).

The southern ranks thin at twilight down to ten white ducks: the nine Pekins and one Mandarin; and a mish-mash of other domestic breeds: four Rouens plus one Cayuga, Saxony, and Indian Runner. If you find more there when you visit after dark, they are slackers, ducks that decide not to fly to roosts unknown. Sometimes there are six, sometimes more. How ducks make decisions is a mystery.

The northern flock is smaller than usual. Calamity is the matron there now

 

The nighttime ducks at the northern end of the millpond are quite a bit different in character. Only about five of them are earthbound domestics too big to fly. Calamity is in her first year as reigning matriarch of this rag tag crew. Her mother, Confidia, died last spring. She and her unnamed brother along with a couple of others are most likely hybrid Mallard-Buff Orpingtons, but their exact lineage is unknown. You can spot the drakes with domestic genes. They have gray/tan chests instead of russet ones found on the loitering Mallards who might be drawn to Calamity’s charms. An occasional Mallard hen or two will also be in attendance and more will start arriving to appraise the stud muffins as mates as spring warm their engines. I’ve seen a minimum of nine ducks at the north end after dark on some nights, but the troop usually numbers 15-30 party-goers.

Two years ago, there were 60-80 ducks at the north end year ’round. That changed in the fall of 2013. The snow in the above photo might provide a clue why. Those are canine tracks in the upper right quadrant. They could be from a neighborhood dog, coyote or fox. I’ve suspected a predator was causing northern end ducks to find safer waddling grounds. There are plenty of nearby locations where water flows all winter. Only ducks incapable of flight like Calamity and her clan are marooned at the millpond.

Meet Maggie, a juvenile swan

January 30th, 2015     2 comments     permalink

Maggie spends her time grazing on pond weeds from the bottom of the north end of the millpond where there is still a small patch of open water

On January 16th, the Wildernest store in downtown Brighton received a call about a juvenile Mute Swan roaming the parking lot behind Jimmy John’s which is next to South Ore Creek across the street from where its waters enter the millpond. She dispatched Tim, her employee with a degree in wildlife biology, to the scene. He found the bird slightly disoriented but couldn’t spot any injuries. He did the right thing; he let it be, but shot this 6-second video with his cell phone.

Maggie appears unfamiliar with humans and is probably from a wild pair instead of "park birds"

The Michigan DNR classifies Mute Swans as an invasive species and is in the process of culling the state’s population of 15,000. By 2030, they plan to reduce the flock to 2,200 to protect Michigan’s native Trumpeter Swans, reduce aggressive behavior toward humans, and decrease habitat destruction. Wildlife rehabbers have been ordered not to treat the birds and euthanize birds brought to them.

The youngster was not seen again until January 22 when it appeared at the north end of the Brighton millpond mingling with the resident winter ducks. It spends its time searching the pond’s submerged vegetation to sustain it though there might not be enough to last the winter.

The domestic ducks come running for chow but Maggie doesn't grasp the concept of pelletized food Note the feathers sticking from her left side. A wing injury?

Since that time, it’s bivouacked at the north end. The ducks are giving it a wide berth so it’s already let them know it’s the puddle czar. Ha! It apparently hasn’t met one of our feisty muskrats who will let it know who’s really in charge.

Will it become a long-term resident? Probably not. Juvenile Mutes seek other young swans in what are sometimes called “bachelor pods.” They remain in flocks 3-4 years before picking a life partner and heading for a pond or lake to raise families alone. If you’ve never seen a male swan defend its nesting territory and cygnets, you’re in for a surprise discovering how aggressive they can be.

I watched her bathe and preen in the dark Water rolls off her back after a quick plunge in the icy water

Some of this bird’s feathers show extensive wear on their tips. It may have endured a long flight before arriving in Brighton. Flight feathers are askew on its left wing (below). Perhaps it injured them hitting a tree limb or power wire while coming in for a landing. This may be the reason it’s on holiday here — flight may be impossible or too tiring to reach its intended destination.

Some of Maggie's feathers look badly worn and the flight feathers on her left wing may be damaged

Since he was first to document this newcomer, Tim was asked to name it for the purposes of this blog. From this day forward, she is Maggie unless we discover she’s male. Then she’ll be Magnus. Swans are uncomfortable discussing such intimate matters, and I’m too much of a gentleman to pry.

Topi muschiati cenare al fresco el dente

January 22nd, 2015     3 comments     permalink

Three pounds of pasta arrived at the Brighton millpond last Saturday night

Three pounds of spaghetti arrived on the millpond ice Saturday night. Less customers than anticipated at Brighton’s fine Italian eateries? Probably. Online sources say ducks like its empty calories but our millpond birds don’t seem to. No matter. A furry dinner guest found it to his liking.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Meet Pinkerton
Pinkerton is a dainty eaterPinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, MichiganHe makes nightly aquatic forages near Main Street. He’s the only millpond muskrat I can easily identify because of his pink-tipped tail. He’s a rather cordial chap unbothered by my presence or the flash of my camera when he’s famished. I can’t imagine pasta popsicles being palatable, but he’s done a good job of devouring all but one small pile of them in the course of three days.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan
Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Oh, wait a minute. He’s had help!
Another muskrat arrived while I was standing there. He’s obviously a friend or family member since Pinkerton allowed him to sit at his icy table. He wasn’t very sociable, however, and decided “take out” was more his style. He headed for a dark corner under the short bridge near the dam to dine alone.

A friend joins Pinkerton for dinner Pinkerton's friend swims a mouthful of pasta back to his burrow

Pinkerton hops up onto the ice to search for other things to eatPinkerton continued to munch on the frozen strands, but he’d take occasional breaks to digest his dinner. He’d dive into the icy water and swim like a fur-covered torpedo. He’d resurface at another spot in the small pool of open water near the dam to scurry around looking for bread and duck chow the ducks had overlooked.

Ducks and muskrats coexist swimmingly — :-) — most of the time, but when food is involved, the ducks give their mammalian neighbors a wide berth. Muskrat claws, teeth. and unpredictable dispositions are no match for them.

Pinkerton dives into the water

Pinkerton would soon circle back for another helping of spaghetti. He didn’t order salad on this night, but I took photos of him snarfing down greens in mid-December. I’ll post those soon so you won’t think he’s a unrepentant carb junkie.

Pinkerton swims from one edge of the ice to another

The kindness of strangers …

January 16th, 2015     11 comments     permalink

The ducks have learned to love roosting on the straw

Just like last winter, some kind soul has been bringing the ducks straw so they have some insulation as they roost directly on the ice. Someday, I’ll find out who this good samaritan is and will properly thank them on this blog.

It took several days for the ducks to appreciate their straw beddingThe ducks avoid the straw for several days when it first arrives. They aren’t comfortable with anything new in their environment. Then one of them ends up lying down on it and realizes its belly is warmer than it would be on the ice. The other ducks soon follow. I’ve mentioned it several times on this blog but I’ll say it again for the new readers: I’m surprised ducks don’t huddle together on cold nights. They normally rest a neck’s length away from each other, probably to avoid being pecked by their buddies.

These photos show how small their swimming area is since we’ve had several severely cold days. Another good smaritan will break the ice with a spud should it entirely freeze over. Ducks love the open water, but they can live without a swimming hole as long as there’s a spot they can get a drink.

Losses at the millpond

January 16th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A photograph of Lewis and Clark taken on December 2, 2014

The first two weeks of the year have not been kind to the domestic ducks at the Brighton millpond. Three white Pekins have been lost. Both Lewis and Clark are gone (right). Elizabeth, a keen duck watcher, reported finding one of them dead at the side of the pond early last week, but it wasn’t the one with the bad limp which was seen last Saturday.

No major injuries were found on the leg or footThe limping duck had been under observation and he seemed to be doing better. He was able to put some weight on his bad leg January 8 when he hobbled to me to be fed. The duck's feathers were not being preened wellPhotos of his foot and leg were discussed with Michigan Duck Rescue and no major injuries were apparent. He wasn’t preening well (right) which isn’t a good sign. Still, it seemed best to allow him to heal on his own rather than put him through the ordeal of capture. There was evidence drakes were occasionally attacking him, something ducks do to wounded flock mates probably in an effort to reduce mating competition. Neck feathers were plucked in these encounters, but no blood was drawn. Perhaps an attack by his rivals pushed him under the ice where he couldn’t breathe, but no body was found. It’s possible someone captured him to seek medical attention but no reports have been received.

Lewis (or Clark) standing on one leg

Buddy is in the foreground in front of Mrs PomPom. Jiminy and Captain D. Hookt are the other twoBuddy (in foreground, left), who was Mrs PomPom’s main suitor and protector lately, was last seen on January 12. On the 13th, I searched for predator tracks or feathers from a kill around the pond. None were found. Buddy was Buda’s sidekick for at least the past four years and was a street smart duck who didn’t allow strangers near.

Ample food has been provided by the public throughout the cold weeks so starvation wasn’t the cause of these deaths. It’s unlikely these deaths were directly from hypothermia either. Last year, no ducks were lost during the brutal winter even with temperatures dropping 23 below zero.

Dazzle’s offspring

January 2nd, 2015     1 comment     permalink

Two of Dazzle's six offspring search for things to eat on the millpond lawn Christmas Eve

 

I caught up with two of Dazzle‘s six 2014 offspring (2014 Brood 22) on Christmas Eve, a hen and drake as they searched for things to eat on the millpond lawn. Except for the white spots on the chest of this female (left) and three of her nestmates, the young birds look like full blood Cayuga ducks like their father. It’s hard to believe their mother is a wild Mallard. Maybe she ordered the half dozen Cayugas through mail order.