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.
Al the posts relating to 2012Brood4 are here.
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.
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.
|Hen||Confidia: Stout tan duck|
|Drake(s)||Typical mallard and typical Buff Orpington in attendance|
|DOB (estimate)||May 18|
|Pond Location||North end, goes to far shore at night|
|1st Meeting||May 19 in water at north end of millpond|
|Duckling Count||13 verified, May 19|
Confidia is a veteran mom and has the assistance of two attending drakes to help with protecting the babies. Even so, she’s lost almost half of her brood during their first three weeks of life.
Posts including this brood:
05/20/12 :: New Front Runner: 2012 Fertility Tournament!
05/25/12 :: Ready for a holiday picnic?
05/29/12 :: Genes: Impressive Recessives
06/11/12 :: Back from vacationing across the border
06/16/12 :: Brood 4 Update: Confidia
08/06/12 :: Like the first day at school
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.