I’m starting “quick quacks,” random observations at the Brighton millpond that will be posted together. They’ll tell you things that aren’t significant enough to warrant an entire post all of their own. Frankly, life at the pond is dull lately. Maybe this will keep the blog rolling through the winter months when not much is happening except the waterfowl enduring the cold weather. Here goes:
Marold (above) was a mess last night. He was covered with dirt. I got a report the day before that he was being attacked by other ducks, but I didn’t find him any worse for wear that evening. Last night, I found him near the millpond dam, alone and filthy. A couple of ducks were near him and may have attacked before my arrival, but he might have just taken a dust bath. There’s loose dirt under the pine tree there. Bird bathe in dirt to dislodge parasites like feather lice but I’ve never seen any on him and he’s usually meticulous in his preening.
I had a chat with a park visitor and a half hour later, Marold was swimming sparkling clean again. With the advent of this blog, millpond ducks may have realized doing odd things encourages me to photograph them. I’ll keep my eye on him to see if this was a publicity stunt or a sign he’s not feeling well.
Calamity(on right, above) hasn’t had an easy life at the millpond since hatching on May 18, 2012. She still hangs out with her brother (on left, above) who’s unnamed but easy to identify by the slice in the webbing on his right foot. They are children of Confidia, a prolific hen who disappeared following a mishap last spring. As third year ducks, they are in prime fiddle for raising families next spring.
Vegas disappeared for most of last summer but has returned to the north end of the pond. I think he’s mostly Buff Orpington with some Saxony tossed in. While not the most colorful on the pond, the birds from this genetic line are what I feel are ideal ducks. They are larger than Mallards with a full, stout physique. They look substantial yet very calm. The females are a clean red-brown like Confidia while the drakes have charcoal gray heads with taupe and dove grays backs giving them a frosted appearance. Last year, about ten birds with this heritage roamed the north end. This year, only Vegas is currently there.
Calamity was born on May 18, 2012, the daughter of one of the pond’s more prolific hens, Confidia, who disappeared following severe mating stress this month and is presumed dead. She’s named for her disastrous season in the summer of 2013. She laid eight eggs in a sure-to-be vandalized location behind a park bench. The eggs were taken by someone who knew duck eggs are great for cooking. Then she broke a toe which has become permanently disfigured.
I believe she was the object of Smith’s desire when he was struck by the car this week. She has constructed a nest on the opposite side of Grand River this year. It’s a safer location for her since she can fly, but Smith cannot. I discovered her nest of seven eggs in a landscaped alcove at an office building. I found an eighth egg in another alcove and added it to her nest although it might not be hers. Hens can’t count.
Whether she will give these eggs adequate attention is questionable. After finding her sitting one day, I’ve found her spending evenings with her three drake buddies (2 are brothers) instead of tending the nest. She may still be in egg laying mode and will eventually begin sitting for the 28 day incubation period. She’s a domestic duck of mixed ancestry (Buff Orpington and Rouen, I think) so may not have acquired a strong urge to mother. We’ll see in the weeks to come.
Confidia, named for being a confident mother a couple of years ago, is having a brutal mating season. Yesterday, she was found bloodied and slightly dazed. The feathers on the side of her head and part of her back were matted but I didn’t see an actual wound. She’s a hearty soul and will probably survive. Medical intervention might be an option, but she travels in a protective family group of five ducks and her capture might cause more problems than it solves.
Almost all ducks stick close to their own group. The buddy system provides more eyes for danger and, I think, more brains to make important flock decisions like where to find food and safe places to rest.
Confidia travels with trusted family members, her children and her favorite drake. Not that she remains faithful, mind you. Her multi-colored broods prove that. She’s the sturdy tan female in this quintet that rarely leaves the north end of the pond. She’s been a very successful mom in past years, but I don’t know where she raised her 2013 brood(s). The year before, she had two broods totaling 23 at the millpond. We’ll see what see’s up to this year very soon.
The heritage of these ducks (all domestic) is impossible to pinpoint. I think Confidia is a Buff Orpington but might have some Saxony and Khaki Campbell thrown in. Her primary drake (right) has some Rouen genes. The hen with the white neck ring is definitely Confidia’s offspring from 2012, but she might have been sired by a full-blood Rouen. Then there are the twins (below). These handsome devils with their charcoal gray heads and big tan and dove gray bodies stick together most of the time when they explore on their own.
There are registries and breed standards for domestic ducks that waddle around competitions, but the hatcheries serving egg and meat farmers don’t let poultry judges dictate who mates with who on their acreage. Hatcheries toy with bloodlines to get the best birds for what their customers want. It might be egg production, quick growth, heartiness in cold climates, meat flavor or a combination of the above. One hatchery’s Silver Appleyard might be another’s Welsh Harlequin. Poke around online. You’ll see what I mean. Farmers are a practical lot. They don’t let conformation standards get in the way of creating the best livestock from their existing animals unless their goal is pedigreed show ring perfection.
Many ducks have moved to the north end of the millpond. Maybe it’s because fewer people offer them food near Main Street now that it’s colder. Last winter, about 50 overwintering ducks relocated at the north end while about 20 ducks, the domestics and a few mallards, stayed near Main Street. Even though there is still no ice on the pond, Confidia (dark tan duck, above far left) and most of her family are already spending the majority of their time at the north end. She’s comfortable there since she nests in that area. All of the ducks in this picture are her offspring except for the green headed drake. He’s probably her chosen suitor for the year ahead.
November 6: When I discovered this duck in the Brighton millpond, I thought it was a new resident. I recorded its presence with these pictures. Then I noticed the bump on its jowl and realized it was Confidia’s duckling from Brood 4 born on May 18th. How different she looks now compared to her uniform blonde plumage in August. This shows how plumage can change significantly as ducklings become adults. Her markings are unique so she’ll be easy to identify in the future.
Young ducks earn their place in the pecking order. If they’re passive, they get pushed around by pond mates (above). This one will probably learn to defend herself as well as her mother. She’s a Buff Orpington, a breed that’s larger, stronger and taller than Mallards. In the duck/goose/swan world, size and strength are as important as attitude in determining dominance within the flock.
Even though her kids are grown, Confidia (above, left) often travels with them around the Brighton millpond. Above, she’s shown walking with three of the dozen that have survived. She doesn’t actively protect them, but spends some of her time with the members of her second brood of the season.
The easiest way to identify her is by her size. As a Buff Orpington duck, she’s larger than all of the Mallards on the pond. Her stout build (left) is easy to spot if she’s on land. Note her black bill with the orange tip (below, center). Some of her ducklings have her coloration, but none have that distinct pattern.
But she’s not giving all of her attention to her kids. She’s already exhibiting courting behavior in her early attempts to reel in a drake for next year’s broods (above, right). Even though it’s not a great picture, I thought you might like to note her posture in this shot. Hens will stand near males, turn their heads to the side and lower it. Then they bob their heads and cluck. That’s duck talk for, “Hey, I think you might be Mr. Right.” The males aren’t taking the bait yet. That will begin in January or so.
Let’s face it. This duck is handsome in his natty gray and taupe feathers. He’s probably a pure bred Buff Orpington, a domestic breed with an interesting history that’s considered “threatened” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. We have about two dozen Buff ducks on the pond as a result of the extraordinary Buff hen, Confidia. Besides his movie star looks, he’s smart. At only 13 months old, he’s devised his own way to avoid the mad dash for handouts the millpond flock uses.
Oh, sure, he’ll grapple for tidbits like the others, but if you encourage him by holding a treat a foot above a park bench (and back from the edge so he has a safe landing zone), he’ll hop up and eat out of your hand while the rest of the flock complain he’s getting their share of the goodies. None, however, consider hopping up to join him. If you keep food coming, he’ll stick around, but quickly dismounts when the gravy train departs. Because he’s the only millpond duck that knows how to entertain a crowd, I’ve named him Vegas.
Confidia’s platinum blonde ducklings are having a rough time . I’ve posted how her older one (Brood 4) has a metal ring around her lower bill, but now I’m seeing a large nodule on the left jowl of her younger one from Brood 24. Wish it would stand still long enough for me to get a crisp photograph. The left photo is fuzzy and doesn’t click through to a larger one like the others. The top shot shows her with five of her six siblings so you can compare the right and left jowls. I was able to momentarily restrain her while another park visitor felt the bump. It appears to be soft rather than firm. See Comments for more info.
Urban ducks have all sorts of things with which to contend. When humans and their dogs aren’t chasing them, they still have to keep an eye out for predators in their semi-wild ponds. In addition, they are faced with litter thrown into the water or blown in during storms.
This handsome duckling from Brood 4 has a ring on its lower bill. No, it’s not a wedding ring. It’s more likely a metal auto part or industrial stamping. You cannot see it from above (lower left). How and when she acquired this accouterment is unknown. I’ve been aware of it for a week.
She’s not in distress and eats well. I’ve known this duck and her five surviving siblings (two at her right, above) since their mom, Confidia brought them to the millpond. I’ve felt the ring with my fingertips. It seems solidly in place. I hope removing it is a simple task after the complex one of catching her. If the ring was there while the duckling was growing, it might require surgery at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Stay tuned.
Covered with muck from the shallows, Confidia brought her 6 surviving ducklings to me at the north end of the pond. They are healthy and will probably all make it to adulthood if they can avoid the turtles since they are almost a month old. Two drakes are in attendance with this brood all of the time. How much added protection they provide is unknown. When food is around, they bite the kids to get them out of their way. I think they’re more interested in fathering Confidia’s next brood than guarding the youngsters.
Yesterday, I found them alone peeping like crazy in encourage mom to come home. She had left them to dally with the two drakes. This video has lots of traffic noise in the background since they are only 30 feet from a 5-lane road, but you can still hear them call out. It’s a sound to file away in your head so, when you hear peeping like this on ponds where you live, you’ll know there are ducklings looking for mom even if you can’t see them.
I hadn’t seen Confidia with her multicolored gang of eleven ducklings for ten days. Someone told me they were being fed at the back door of the Border Cantina restaurant. They finally returned on June 8th with seven remaining ducklings. It’s interesting that she’s lost three of the gray ones and three of the standard mallards, but the most visible duckling, the yellow one, is doing fine. Even with the protection of the hen and the two drakes who appear to be very attentive, she’s lost almost half of her brood. I imagine the one with the injured leg is among them.
I took many photographs of the group as they ate and then rested at the shoreline. They are good family portraits, but I thought it was overkill to place all of them large enough to view in this post. Click the thumbnails to see the larger versions.
On the following night, the family returned but only six ducklings were in tow (below).
It’s been decades since I’ve read textbooks about dominant and recessive genes. The years have taken their toll on my understanding. Maybe a reader will explain it to me again. This past week has made me realize this particular hen has been a star of this blog without me realizing it. So I’m naming her to make it easier for me to write about her. A blog “tag” now compiles posts of her life on the pond. I’m not a fan of naming millpond ducks. It makes them seem more like pets than wild beasts, but it helps me quickly describe them and avoid writing, “the tan duck that lives in the north end of the millpond that started with a brood of 13.” Even though I’ve done it, I prefer names that aren’t cute. Cute names diminish the animals’ stature each time they’re uttered.
Meet Confidia. I’ve been calling her that to myself since last autumn because she’s so confident as a mother. Except for her disheveled appearance after her late brood in 2011, she handles mothering with ease. I’ve been photographing her for three years but she might have been hatching broods much longer than that. She’s a pitbull with feathers: stout with a muscular neck, strong bill and upright posture. No other duck on the pond has her carriage. I think she’s of Buff Orpington stock, but a duck expert could convince me otherwise.
She produces ducklings with diverse markings while most hens’ ducklings look identical and are difficult to tell apart. Besides their various colors, facial markings vary from chick to chick. These close ups confirm it. I’m sure it’s genetics, that her own genes play second fiddle to those of her mates. I can’t explain it beyond that. Maybe that’s enough.
Notes about her current brood
One little guy (pictured) has injured his right leg and can’t put weight on it. He hops, tumbles, and then rests. He still looks healthy but his long-term survival is in question. The yellow duckling seems passive and smaller (see above pictures). It might not be getting its share of nutrition. Time will tell for these tykes.
Five minutes after this family of ducks bounded out of the pond following a violent attack (a hungry turtle?), mom gathered the troupe at the north end of the Brighton millpond. All ducklings and toes were accounted for! Since I last photographed this family and announced it as the front runner in the 2012 Brighton Millpond Fertility Tournament, two of the 13 ducklings have vanished. While it’s sad, it’s expected. Young ducklings are vulnerable to predators, cold nights, humans, and health issues. Careful parenting is one factor in raising ducklings to adulthood. Another is luck. This hen has been a contender in ALL THREE YEARS of the tournament and is a devoted mom. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!
Although she did her best, the duck with 11 ducklings is now in second place. Farther north, a hen has introduced her brood of 13 ducklings to park visitors. They are only 1-2 days old and a fine assortment of colors.
I haven’t researched it, but I think broods can have different fathers. This hen associates with both a Mallard and a Buff Orpington drake (right). There are six gray ducklings (probably Buffs like the drake and mom) and six with typical dark mallard traits. The bright yellow duckling? Perhaps there was a fling with a millpond Pekin.
Their mom is a stocky, veteran millpond mom. She produced 2011’s last brood of the season on September 1st. That duckling quartet were as colorful as this batch. All of them thrived to adulthood because of their mom’s skills.
Blonde Bombshell #2 was one of them. She’s been missing for five days. She’s probably nesting since her male partner is loitering near The Wooden Spoon at the north end. Within a month, I suspect her ducklings will join their grandmother’s troupe for a three-generation family reunion.
Except for hens tending ducklings, ducks ignore each other most of the time as shown in the above picture. The duck in the center is the son of the duck on the right, the mom of the last brood of the season. The duck on the left is either a buddy of the son or mom’s suitor. It’s difficult to tell at this time of the year when ducks aren’t courting.
I went home with two shots (right and below) where it appears mom is looking directly at junior’s feet. Ducks don’t stare at other ducks so this is surprising behavior. It’s as if mom was saying, “You knew the ice was melting. Why didn’t you put on your galoshes like I told you to do?”
Rotten weather kept me away from the millpond for four days. On my return, I found most of the ducks in the bay near the Stillwater Grill. I think they gathered there for shelter from the wind that swept through town.
While looking at a group of five ducks, I realized they were the often mentioned “Last Ducklings of the Season” on this blog, now seven weeks old. In just those four days, the ducklings had grown so their size rivals mom’s (second from left, top photo) now. It’s difficult to tell which is the mom and which are her “babies.” One of them might even be a bit larger.
It’s a handsome, healthy brood and are just beginning to grow their flight feathers. The duckling in the upper left (above right photo) is stretching his wing and left foot. You can see the tips of his new flight feathers growing from their bluish-white sheaths if you click the photo to see it larger. Below, the troupe rests on the sidewalk hoping I’ll toss them a few duck chow pellets. They’re pretty smart; they know I’m easy.
Her four ducklings are almost six weeks old so the Buff Orpington hen has more time for herself. It shows. Compare her feathers in this photograph with the disheveled ones two weeks ago. Even last week, she looked ragged. She’s preening more now and is nearing the end of her molt. Ignoring her own needs has been an effective strategy for raising her brood. All have survived, a rarity for ducklings in their first few weeks of life. With the turtles already hibernating or close to it, temperature drops bring the most danger into their young lives.
She won’t be heading south for the winter. Buff Ducks rarely fly due to their weight, 6-8 pounds. Last year, most Buffs wintered at the north end of the pond. Because Pekin Ducks dominate in agriculture, Buffs are considered a “threatened” breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy with less than a thousand registered. Those are “pure” birds. The ones at the millpond surely are hybrid mixes with mallard genes in the pool.
At the 1-month milestone, the youngest ducks on the pond are growing quickly and enduring the cold, wet weather very well. Their mom remains disheveled and is molting now. Unless there’s a hen way off natural rhythms, I think these ducklings are the last of the season.
Their mom is highly protective of the four little ones and has her hands full chasing away intruders who venture near the brood. One minute she allows interlopers to eat bill-to-bill with her kids, but the next, she might charge toward them and pluck feathers (below). Since they need those feathers to stay warm and fly south during the fall migration, they quickly flee.
More ducklings may still be born, but it currently appears this brood is the last of the season at the Brighton millpond. I noticed their mom standing on a slight mound in the marsh at the north end on September 2nd. Her wings were lowered and spread so I knew she was keeping young ones warm in the rain, but they didn’t come out to be counted.
A few nights later, I saw her move through the water with little ones trailing her but it was too dark to count them. She showed up at the southern end of the pond when her kids were almost three weeks old. She’s stayed at the southern end although she’s scuffling with some resident ducks who let her know she’s in their territory. She holds her own in these minor battles.
The four ducklings are an assortment of colors and healthy. She, however, has been disheveled since I first photographed her (below left). I attributed it to the rain then, but now see (below right) she has no time to preen during these early weeks of rearing her brood. Mothering stresses hens. They often molt after the hatch which also taxes her physical resources. Too bad there isn’t a duck spa. She needs the rest and pampering.
Still the leading entry in the 2010 Fertility Tournament, Duck Division, even though she’s lost another duckling since the last update, the ducklings in her care are not let out of her sight. She’s a diligent mother as you can tell by the way she parades the troop (above).
Maybe during the winter, she can transmit her maternal procedures to the HussyHen (below) who still doesn’t have a clue when it comes to raising little ones. While she was photographed near her only remaining tyke last night, it’s not always her style. Often, she’s with her buddies while he’s halfway down the pond peeping his heart out trying to locate her. He’s definitely got pluck. Hope he makes it.
While it’s still early enough in the 2010 season for another hen to claim the title, it looks like this is the odds-on favorite at the Brighton Millpond. Eleven ducklings! Click either image to see larger, more detailed versions.
The winner, however, may have cheated. Some hens “ducknap” ducklings from other disinterested moms. To complicate matters, 1) some hens lay eggs in nests that don’t belong to them, 2) ducklings just start following other ducklings they think are their siblings and 3) adopted moms don’t know how to count so they accept wayward ones if they join the party before moms learn to recognize their call or features.
“Creching” is typical in Canada Geese. I think the behavior happens in mallards, too. In the Fertility Tournament, it doesn’t matter how the brood is established. The rules are created by the participants. Personally, I think the distinct colors of the ducklings tell the story. I see at least three, or possibly four, broods in this assemblage. I’m not telling the judges.
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