May 21st, 2013 permalink
Dazzle sure does. Park visitors ask me: “Where’s the black duck?” and “Where’s the green duck?” I know they are referring to the same one. If they met him in bright sun, he shimmers in iridescent green, but on cloudy days, he’s an inky black but still stands out from the crowd. He was dumped at the pond in January, 2012, and spent last spring mating with every hen he could sweep off her webbed feet at the millpond. Then he flew away. I suspect he was charming hens in other ponds. He returned in autumn.
This year, he’s a little different. He hooks up with hens but not for long. He’s still a cad at heart. For the past few days (at least), he’s been following this attractive hen around. They lounge on the millpond lawn together and go on frequent swimming dates. Will we have some tiny iridescent black ducklings added to the pond this year? Even though he gave it his all last year, none arrived.
May 8th, 2013 permalink
Once I start posting about specific ducks, people start contacting me to find out how they are doing so I thought I’d provide a quick summary of ducks recently mentioned. Dumpling (above) remains in Stillwater Bay. Her first night was spent near a bonded pair of mallards, but since then she’s been going it alone usually perched on a submerged log in the pond to avoid predators. The drakes haven’t ravished her yet.
I discovered the hen nesting in the parking lot (left) is being carefully tended by the fine wait staff at Sushi Zen and they’ve named her Quackz. A delightful waitress told me Quackz’s bonded drake is almost always in attendance, and the hen has been there about three weeks. If they happen to be around when the ducklings hatch, she plans to notify me. I’ve love to help escort the family to the millpond which includes a waddle across Grand River Avenue’s five lanes of constant traffic.
The Black Swedish duck that was hit by a car is perfectly fine. The drake that was also hit has a slight limp. Dustin, a millpond regular, helped me feed her so I could get good close up shots to see if she has any noticeable injuries (right). I’m happy to report her bill is fine even though it was bloody on the night she was hit. Maybe she bit her tongue in the accident. She eats very well and that’s also a good sign.
Frick is staying away from the pond entirely and is hiding out along Mill Pond Lane to avoid the drakes. She can move her injured wing now so there’s some hope she can fly again. Her bonded partner is usually nearby but he seems to be straying more frequently lately.
Abe and Annabelle, two ducks with injured feet haven’t been seen in a couple of weeks. Tux is also absent. I’m not worried about any of them because the ducks dispersed within just a couple of days weeks ago and all of these disappeared at the same time. I think they are in unvisited nooks at the millpond or have journeyed to nearby ponds. They will all come back eventually. Maybe with ducklings in tow. Willaby vanished at the same time, but Wanda reported a sighting of him a few days ago so he’s A-okay.
May 5th, 2013 permalink
Humans have a difficult time finding a parking spot in downtown Brighton on Friday nights as the restaurants fill. Muskrats don’t have to worry about that. They swim in from their nearby burrows to dine under the stars.
All winter, the male (right) barged in when I fed the ducks at the north end of the pond, but this is the first week he’s brought his beloved with him. Muskrats can have as many as nine pups per litter and up to three litters during their spring-fall season so I imagine we’ll have babies learning how to shove ducks around before spring ends in June. Last year the pair living in this area had five tikes in the fall. This may be the same couple.
May 1st, 2013 permalink
A feisty Mallard hen put on quite a show in the bay beside Brighton’s city hall last night. The quacking and flapping attracted downtown diners to the commotion. In my years of duck watching, I’ve never seen such a courtship display before.
The hen fanned out her tail feathers, wiggled them in front of the drakes, and taunted them to chase her. If they wouldn’t, she’d chase them instead. If they got too close, she’d leap into the air and fly a few feet quacking the whole time.
She did this for at least 15 minutes appearing joyful that the drakes who couldn’t nab her. She’s the Sally Rand of ducks luring the boys without delivering the goods. She was revved up and had a great time.
The drakes? They kept after her but seemed bewildered by her ability to allude them. The millpond is a circus these days. If you live in the area, spend time at it. You’ll see lots of activity as the birds prepare to bring the next generation into the world.
May 1st, 2013 permalink
I heard the thud of two ducks hitting the bumper from 50 yards away. Two drakes chased a hen in the middle of Main Street. The SUV couldn’t avoid them. It didn’t stop. The injured drake wasn’t badly hurt, but the hen was motionless as I approached wondering what I could do without gloves to shield myself from the gory mess I’d find. Desi, one of SweetPea’s suitors, had other ideas. He thought a motionless Black Swedish hen gave him the perfect opportunity to mate (left). Really, Desi? Now? Ducks are ruthless. I’ve seen drakes take turns mating with a dead hen and have also witnessed attacks on injured ducks. The motive must be: when a duck can’t defend itself, it’s time to take advantage.
After chasing Desi away, the hen sat dazed by the impact surrounded by feathers ripped out by the drake, not in the accident. But within moments, she got up and walked to the curb (top) where she rested for a few more minutes. I stood guard keeping three drakes away. I couldn’t find any major injuries, just a little blood on her bill that was probably scraped on the pavement in the crash.
She walked to a quiet corner beside a storefront(left). Once I chased the males away, I left her there to recover. I thought she’d spend the rest of the night recuperating, but ten minutes later, she arrived on the lawn with her bonded mate and began eating (below). Still a bit dazed but on her feet. I took pictures from all angles and couldn’t find any major external injuries when I examined them more closely back home. Whether she’ll be fine on Wednesday is uncertain. I’ll check on her and, if she is in poor shape, I’ll seek help.
March 31st, 2013 permalink
In the duck world, it appears hens select the drakes. Females bob their heads and cluck (left) at males they find particularly attractive. In 2012′s warm winter, head bobbing began in late January but the drakes weren’t interested for more than six weeks. This year, the bobbing didn’t begin until March. By the third week, the drakes were paying attention. Courting was very short this year. Most ducks have already found suitable mates for the first nesting, but as always, there are males who remain unattached and play the field, often with the bonded hens who aren’t well guarded by their partners.
Madeline, a Buff Orpington hen, has found Duncan to be the apple of her eye this season. He’s a Rouen duck, another domestic species. Rouens look like Mallards but weigh up to 12 pounds compared to the 3-4 pounds of wild Mallards. Note size difference of the drakes, below right. I’ll tell you more about Brighton’s millpond Rouens in an upcoming post.
Madeline prefers assortative mating, selecting partners of similar size. Most domestic ducks at the millpond also follow this pattern although one previous resident, The Black Dahlia, selected a much smaller wild Mallard drake during her final nesting before she died. Assortative mating isn’t confined to size preferences and may bring positive as well as negative attributes to humans and animals. There is some very speculative theories it may partly explain why Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism have increased in recent years — “systemizing” thinkers are often attracted to other “systemizers” and their pairing may strengthen the trait in their offspring.
Domestics tend to mate with ducks of similar size and stay in groups of like-sized ducks. The Buda Bunch and The Dam Tribe are examples. A few wild birds fraternize with the domestics but most don’t seek their company. One exception is tiny Frick, hand-raised then dumped at the pond two summers ago. She winters with the Main Street domestics three times her size. She was probably raised with larger ducks. Perhaps her egg was placed in a domestic bird’s nest so she imprinted on a domestic mother.
March 27th, 2013 permalink
I get a kick out of watching the kids grow up. This drake became a friend of mine last summer when he couldn’t walk due to a foot injury caused by a turtle. I know I reported on his injury at the time, but since I didn’t name him (darn it), I can’t find it today. I hand fed him for a couple of weeks and, ever since then, he waddles up to greet me. Yesterday, he ran across the remaining ice with his seasonal mate to see if I’d give him some duck chow. You bet I did. It was nice to see he has bonded with a beautiful hen.
While I hate to see injuries, they do help me identify ducks as they go about their lives. Wish I could band them so I could tell them apart. Wild Mallards all look alike, and the abrupt change in plumage from duckling down through the first eclipse molt and transformation into breeding plumage in winter makes it nearly impossible to keep track of individual birds.
I’m glad to know this young chap has found a suitable partner. I’m sure I’ll be photographing their ducklings within a couple of months. Since dads rarely stick around, I’ll have to identify his brood from the appearance of this hen. She has a strong eyestripe and some green on her bill which is uncharacteristic of females so that might help.
March 27th, 2013 permalink
After photographing the Canada goose near Stillwater Grill the other day, I decided to view the area from another angle. This bay at the millpond abuts a parking lot for the restaurant. A 10′ tall seawall separates them. From atop the wall, I could see into their nest built a foot above the water within the cattails (above). I think I see four eggs (below) but my camera is limited by only a 6x zoom so I can’t be sure of the count. Birds usually lay an egg a day and wait until the entire clutch is finished before they begin to incubate them for the young all hatch at once. In this weather, the eggs benefit by natural refrigeration. There is still plenty of ice at the edge of the cattails along with a discarded plastic water bottle and assorted debris delivered to the bay on windy days.
March 24th, 2013 permalink
I saw a bonded pair of mallards on the far edge of the shore ice as I walked past. They jumped into the water and paddled toward me so I stopped to wait for them. I thought it was the pair I mentioned were honeymooning at that location last week. As they waddled toward me, I was checking the hen’s feet to verify her identify by her injured left foot. It wasn’t her. Then I heard a familiar squawk only one duck on the pond has. It was Frick with her new beau!
She has selected a handsome fellow with beautiful conformation and bright plumage. As a chivalrous suitor, the drake stood by while she ate. Drakes stand guard but rarely eat while courting. It’s probably an evolutionary strategy to guarantee the hen has the nutrition she needs for egg production. It’s in the drake’s self interest to have his mate produce healthy ducklings.
Last year, Frick hatched five babies on June 21st, but none survived. As a first time mom, I don’t think Frick had the skills she needed to protect them from predators. Maybe she’ll do better this year. Since she’s bonded early, I expect ducklings at least a month earlier this year. Frick has had a colorful life since she was dumped at the pond by her previous owner. You can find out more in a series of posts spanning the past two years.
March 23rd, 2013 permalink
The muskrat that visits the Main Street area of the millpond made his nightly visit before dark Friday, something he’s been doing a lot lately. The sky was blue, the air cold, and he seemed quite relaxed dog-paddling from shore to the edge of the ice looking for things to fill his belly before the light of day faded. Note how his fur is almost the exact color of the reflections of the surrounding trees in the ripples. This makes him a less likely target for predators. A peregrine falcon was seen in the area this past week. They are known to kill pigeons and ducks by knocking them out of the air with a blow inflicted at break-neck speed, but I imagine they might find a muskrat a delicious meal, too, if it was found on the edge of the pond ice munching on vegetation. Hawks, snapping turtles, and large owls are more typical muskrat foes in this region, however.
March 23rd, 2013 permalink
I saw Tux take a jab at another drake last night and it warmed by heart. The other male was surprised by the move (above) which my camera’s shutter was too slow to catch. While school children are taught that bullying is a sin worse than eating red meat, in the animal world it’s a part of daily life. Animals that succeed know how to broadcast their potential strength and it gets them food, territory and mates. I hope Tux learns to bully enough to get the things he needs to lead a full life at the pond. Go, Tux, go!
March 16th, 2013 permalink
I’ve posted a dozen of Brighton’s most famous ducks on Pinterest and am posting short comments when new things happen in their lives there. While Pinterest posts are brief, you can get a quick overview of Brighton’s finest by visiting Celebri-ducks from the Brighton mill pond. Click the Follow button and you’ll receive notification when new posts are added. I encourage you to add your own comments, too!
March 15th, 2013 permalink
I shouldn’t be as amused as I am by the antics of muskrats. There are two of these fellows that have honed their talents this winter at pushing wildfowl around at both ends of the pond. These shots are the north end’s rascal. The Canada geese have returned to the pond and found a competitor for their duck chow in a four pound furball. They seem surprised by his fearlessness while they hiss at him.
Muskrats have poor vision, but their focus on obtaining food is keen. They don’t mess around. When they join the party (uninvited, I might add), they barge in and scatter ducks. If duck are in the way, they shove them aside or chomp at their flanks. Ducks like Dazzle (right) don’t fear them because they can quickly dodge their jabs, but all of the ducks respect their ability to inflict wounds and usually keep their distance unless hunger blurs their movements. Meanwhile, the muskrat doesn’t even give them second glances. He heads for the cracks in the sidewalks looking for pellets the ducks can’t reach.
March 13th, 2013 permalink
March 6: While most of the ducks are still trying to select the perfect mate for the nesting season, some have already made their choices. This pair is honeymooning behind the Brighton Area Fire Department’s Station #31.
The hen is an old friend of mine. Following a nasty bite from a turtle last August, we had several chats over duck chow. She developed an infection and lost a portion of her center toe on her left foot as well as some of her webbing. But she’s in great shape now and has found an attentive drake to spend time with before she finds a hidden spot to nest for 28 days.
She’ll probably be one of the first hens to hatch a clutch of eggs and, because she trusts me, I’ll bet you’ll see close ups of her ducklings right here in early May. Stay tuned.
March 12th, 2013 permalink
I can identify many millpond ducks by their markings or behaviors, but I’m unsure of this hen’s history. Plumage can change with each molt. She may be Valiant since she hasn’t been seen for months or she might be Blonde Bombshell #2. Until I have time to review photos to determine her heritage, I shall call her Angel.
Within the past few weeks, she’s started to remain with the domestic ducks near Main Street. She’s sizing up the drakes as possible mates hoping one will surrender to her charms. Since Buda seems smitten with Mrs PomPom, he’s allowing the other three drakes in his group to pursue Angel’s affection. Dexter and Buddy admire her beauty (below left). Later, Dexter and Beauregard escort the young damsel around the pond (below right) while Buda watches.
Most hens are actively courting drakes by bobbing their heads and clucking now. Angel hasn’t singled out her special choice yet but will probably select another large domestic since ducks tend to gravitate toward others of the same size. Beauregard and Buddy certainly find her actions alluring (below left). Angel (below right) is a hybrid mix of two domestic breeds, Buff Orpington and Pekin.
MooseTracks, a member of the Dam Tribe, is rarely demonstrative but also shows interest in Angel. I have a hunch, by mid-summer, Angel will be a member of the Buda Bunch because of the attention she’s getting from all of the drakes in that sub-flock (below center and right).
February 27th, 2013 permalink
Last year, I posted the three Bath Time rituals of ducks. Here’s another example of preening, the last bathing step.
Buda is Brighton’s largest millpond duck. He’s a Pekin and spends lots of time cleaning and smoothing his feathers each day as all ducks do. In addition to cleaning and fluffing their feathers to provide insulation against the cold, ducks use the serrated edges on their bills to interlock the barbules along each feather. This is essential for their wings to paddle air as they fly. Read more about feathers and their structure at Wikipedia.
Buda does it just to stay warm and beautiful. Pekin ducks can’t fly. The breed was developed for egg productions and to be served for dinner so their bodies are much too large to become airborne.
January 18th, 2013 permalink
January 15: With the blue sky reflecting on the pebbled ice at the north end of the Brighton millpond, two drakes quack at each other while waddling toward open water for a morning bath. I call the perpetual soft quacking “jabbering,” but I’m sure there’s a better term. I doubt it communicates much more than, “Hey I’m here and my brain is in gear.” It’s used when ducks are together whether they are anxious or just actively engaged with each other.
Note the difference in their sizes. The duck on the left is a Rouen Duck or a Rouen/Mallard hybrid. The other one is a typical wild Mallard that weighs less than half as much. Depending upon sources, Rouen’s can grow to be 8-10 or 10-12 pounds but it takes them 7-10 (or 12-18) months to do it. As a result, they aren’t considered profitable for meat production unless consumers are willing to pay the extra price. Some feel the flavor is worth it. There are also two distinct breeds of Rouens now, a “show” bird and a “production” bird that’s smaller and a better egg producer. You can read more about them at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy where they are on the “watch” list.
January 14th, 2013 permalink
I first posted pictures of a tailless Mallard drake on January 11th of last year. I think this is the same duck so it’s time to wish him a happy anniversary! He has no unique identifying marks and he’s gone through two molting cycles since he was last photographed but this one has the same unmarked bill, feet with all toes, and a narrow neckband. He can be seen near Main Street on most evenings but rarely gets close to humans so you’ll have to hunt for him a bit. He’s easiest to identify when he’s on land. He seems to be active and doing just fine although his tushie must get chilled when he swims.
Last March, I asked a bird expert what would cause this, and it appears the feather papillae (where feathers are grown) in his skin were injured at some point in its life maybe from a bout with a predator. It might have happened when he was merely a duckling but I didn’t notice it until he was fully grown. You can read all of the posts about him, and I’m glad to report he looks very healthy.
January 9th, 2013 permalink
In the small circle of open water near Main Street, the ducks can often be seen in this posture. They sweep their bills back and forth as they swim to consume tiny floating plants, I guess. It hardly seems worth the caloric effort, but it must provide with them important nutrients.
January 5th, 2013 permalink
Willaby has discovered a way to get his share of duck chow and I’m impressed with his solution. Mary, the wildlife photographer, told me about it before I saw him do it. When we’re tossing food down to the ducks from the boardwalk near Grand River, he now flies up to join us on the boardwalk!
No other ducks have followed him so he eats undisturbed by his rivals without being pecked or jostled. He still won’t let me get too close. I have to toss pellets instead of place them in a nice pile, but he’s good at scooting around on the snow to reach all of them. My recent observations make me wonder if his injury was from a King Arthur toss. The photo posted today of the King grabbing the tail of a duck might be evidence of the King also causing the featherless tails I see, too. I’ve recently seen another one but haven’t posted his picture yet.
January 5th, 2013 permalink
When King Arthur arrives at a gathering of ducks, they all stay a neck’s length away from him (left). They know he might grab them otherwise. He can fit a wing or tail in his bill and toss a duck aside if he wants to. I got a report from Mary, another wildlife photographer, today that he was rather rough with Dazzle. He picked him up by the neck and shook him like a rag doll.
If he was intent on hurting ducks, he could easily do it. Right now, he could grab one and slam it onto the ice with his long neck used to gain force. He’s five times bigger: wild ducks weigh 3-5 pounds, he weighs about 25. But I’ve only seen him grab them and forcefully move them aside. Oh, it’s not particularly gentle, but it’s not vicious either. As I watched him do it last night while looking down at them from the boardwalk above, it seemed like he was rearranging them like an interior designer would move around furniture. Reduckorating!
If he had cygnets to care for, the situation might be more serious, but in past summers, I’ve seen ducks enter the reach of his youngsters and he isn’t concerned. It’s a different story with Canada geese. He sometimes chases them for hundreds of yards and it’s really dramatic! None of the ducks he “moved” last night quacked in pain like they do when fellow ducks bite them in the rear as they are scrambling for food. Still, the ducks get the messsage that the King is in charge and stay out of his reach most of the time.
December 31st, 2012 permalink
Shortly after Desi was lethargic, Fred spent several days under the weather and didn’t preen himself well. A bird person more knowledgeable than me named Pat took a look at him and decided he was probably cold. He was molting and might also be suffering from a virus. He’d stay by the edge of the pond with his bill tucked under his wing while standing on one leg (top and right), both can be signs he’s conserving body heat. While Desi was busy hobnobbing with SweetPea and Buda, Fred preferred resting (below).
I’m not a trained duck diagnostician, just an amateur observer. I’d say the millpond’s ducks are a healthy lot. In the past three years, I’ve only seen a couple showing signs of illness. Yet I realize wild animals are skilled in looking strong even while they are in weakened states so predators don’t single them out.
For a few days, Fred would still hop out of the pond to greet me, but he’d stand almost motionless and not interested in watching me (below). Fortunately, it was a short term problem and he’s energetic again. He pops out of the pond and runs up to see if I might have any duck chow to share with him. He’s rarely disappointed.