August 8th, 2012 permalink
For the past few years, a mallard hen has nested in the courtyard of Miller Intergenerational Center in Brighton, Michigan. She’s smart. It’s a safe environment to raise a family and kind souls like Kim, who works at the Center, arrive daily with food for them. If it weren’t for the sky being open to the rest of the world, it would be predator-free. This year’s brood of six ducklings had lived a happy life there for eight weeks, but two nights ago, they had a visit by an owl or hawk. The remains of one of the little ones was found the next morning.
Like ducks, predators know good things when they find them. It would return to sup on other ducklings now that it knew their location. I arrived to help them move the ducklings out so they would have a better chance at survival. At first, it was a piece of cake. Two of the ducklings followed a food trail through the carpeted hall to an exterior door and were left there. The other three would not enter the dark hallway so the task became more difficult. It involved chases, blankets to corral them, clapping, and searches in bushes with brooms. Like Nature itself, it was chaotic. :-)
But the half-grown ducks were successfully caught in the hands of helpers and transported outside where they gathered at the door longing to return to their comfortable childhood home. Their mother remained in the courtyard not understanding what was happening. She flew out later and surely, after a short search, found her family and led them to a place that has food, water, and protection from predators.
I visited the site after dark last night to listen for the hen calling the ducklings or the tykes calling for mom. It was silent. My visit wasn’t without excitement, however. I discovered a pair of skunks flagging their black and white tails at me from under a wooden deck (right). They were wrestling. I got close enough to get these shots, but not so close I would be sprayed.
I talked with Kim today and all appears to be going well. There are no ducks calling or waiting at doors for their breakfast.
August 30th, 2011 permalink
Due to a video card biting the dust, I’ve been unable to make my usual daily posts. To catch up on the feathered action at the millpond, I’ll report on many of the ducklings in this one.
On August 19th, I reported two ducklings were rejected and venturing into the world alone. The gray chick vanished after three days, but the blonde one has miraculously survived. He’s teamed up with a duckling who is a week older than him (above) after many attempts to find a willing adult duck to provide some protection. The two go their merry way much of the time, but often pair up at night to stay warm as they rest. There’s hope for their future!
The hen who threw him out of her clutch of ten had only five left on August 24 (above), but only four remain now (below left). She’s one of the most stressed moms on the pond and keeps them away from most of the other ducks at night.
At the north end of the pond, the survival rate appears better. A brood of nine ducklings is growing quickly (above right). I think they are the ones I photographed on August 8th when there were 13 of them. Under the care of a wary hen, they will probably survive to adulthood. Ducklings are most vulnerable in their first two weeks and they are now past that stage.
After dark, Duck 65 usually shows up at my feet expecting a handout. He’s been at the millpond since July 25th and still gets picked on by other ducks. He’s good at dodging their lunges. There’s a serious tear in the webbing on his left foot (right), and he walks with a limp. Webbing injuries like this never heal but the pain will go away with time. The tear is probably from a scuffle with another duck, but I can’t be sure.
August 18th, 2011 permalink
Some buddies and I had a conference call with one of my clients while I was at the Brighton millpond last night.
July 19th, 2011 permalink
In mid-June, several park visitors joined me in watching this mallard hen and her brood of three weeks-old ducklings at the very brink of the dam (left). All of us were sure at least one of the youngsters would be washed away. One duckling even braved the tiny waterfall shown above and stuck his head under it searching for morsels to eat. He lived to tell about it, too.
One of this hen’s ducklings did disappear after this date, but the cause isn’t known. The two remaining swim near the dam daily and spend their nights on the cement beside the falls. As of this past week, they are beginning to grow their flight feathers (right) and, within another month, will be as large as their parents who remain vigilant in their parental responsibilities.
June 14th, 2011 permalink
Since The Black Dahlia left the more public area of the Brighton millpond in late March, she’s been honeymooning at the pond’s north end. The nuptial bliss ended abruptly this past week by the birth of a duckling (above right). The dahlia has a bud! To further complicate her new duties as a mother, a half-grown duckling (above left) with negligent parents has adopted her and her suitor as surrogate parents. He already knows there’s safety in numbers. Neither of the parents are thrilled with the interloper and take nips at him, but he doesn’t leave.
Dahlia appears more diligent in her motherly role this year and hopefully her chick won’t meet the fate of the one she had last year. He’s an active tyke and already accepts duck chow handouts, a skill he’s quickly learned from mom. Her drake isn’t as happy with his fatherly role. I’ve seen him nip the little guy a couple of times when he gets in the way of dad eating.
While watching the family just after dark, they became agitated. I soon discovered why. A bandit was approaching them (left) but when I made a quick movement, he scurried up a tree. The family group huddled at the shoreline ready to seek the safety of the water but didn’t need to. The raccoon quickly moved on to the next trash container hunting for cone and pizza scraps left by humans during the day.
June 5th, 2011 permalink
They act like wind up toys as they skitter along the surface near their parents. Less than a week old, they’ve already learned to accept food from humans from their begging parents. If they don’t reach a duck chow pellet before it sinks, they’ll actually dive down 2′ to grab it and then bob to the surface like ping pong balls.
May 16th, 2011 permalink
Unfazed by the first entry, a proud mallard hen enters the tournament with a handsome brood of 11 ducklings (left) just a couple of days later. While watching her with the babes, two marauding drakes paid a visit asking for conjugal favors. Standing between them and her chicks, she forcefully told them she had a headache and was quite busy (above). At least they asked this time. Sometimes they aren’t as polite.
A few feet away, the first entry proved it’s possible to keep 20 ducklings warm under one hen (below left). She’s lost one of her brood of 21 and will lose others before they fledge in two months. All appear as healthy as the ball of fluff posing for a mother-and-child portrait (below right).
May 10th, 2011 permalink
The first entry in this year’s Millpond Duck Fertility Tournament is going to be difficult to top. On May 9th, this Mallard hen arrived at the pond with 21 ducklings in her care. Are they all hers? Probably not. Since the average clutch size is 8-13, she probably acquired some babes from other hens. Some females “egg dump,” lay eggs in the nests of other ducks. But could one hen successfully incubate 21 eggs? Hardly likely.
Maybe another clutch just joined her parade of ducklings. Very young ducklings don’t recognize their own parent nor do the parents recognize their offspring during their early life. There’s room for unknowingly switching parents. Since ducklings feed themselves, there’s little added stress on a hen having a larger brood. In fact, there might be advantages in avoiding predators. While I can’t confirm it, I think there’s also some benign theft. Some hens are diligent while others are happy to let their kids drift into the care of others. This is called “creching” or “brood amalgamation” and is less common among ducks than it is Canada geese (mentioned last year).
Sadly, many of these tiny fuzz balls will expire quickly no matter how protective the mom. More than half of them will end up in the bellies of predators or succumb to disease and other calamities. Stay tuned.
October 28th, 2010 permalink
You’ve learned more than you want to know about this year’s duckling crop, but I thought I’d wrap it up. The hen with eleven ducklings succeeded in raising nine to adulthood. Only recently has she relinquished her parental responsibilities and her ducklings have dispersed. Just a month ago, her brood still followed her commands and she (upper left) pulled back to give them room to roam within her eyesight.
While still a clueless mother, the HussyHen has managed to raise one of her four chicks to maturity. A month ago, he was an ungainly teenager stage (below) with his feet and bill out of proportion. Now, he’s almost the size of the adults and he’s got the moxie to compete with the rest of the ducks. He’s more vocal than most ducks. He learned to squawk to get his mother’s attention. With his unique markings, he’ll be easy to identify in the future. I think he’ll be a handsome rascal once his feathers reach full size.
September 6th, 2010 permalink
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.
August 26th, 2010 permalink
Still prevailing champion of the 2010 Fertility Tournament, Duck Division, the hen of the above tribe lets her brood wander a few feet from her now that they’ve grown a bit. Even though she’s lost one of her eleven within the past week, she a very protective mom. None of the other ducks on the pond have more youngsters to watch or does a better job of it.
The news on the HussyHen, however, isn’t as good. She lost one of her two remaining chicks. The sole survivor seems to be a fighter and looks healthy, but he’s going to have to raise himself. She pays little attention to him and leaves him in harm’s way much of the time. At night, she often hangs with her buddies and leaves him in the pond alone. Predators and hypothermia are major killers of young ducks. If she doesn’t snuggle up to him during the forecoming cool nights, he may not be able to keep himself warm.
August 20th, 2010 permalink
The Brighton Millpond might appear an idyllic place to grow up but it’s a actually an aquatic jungle filled with danger for tiny ducklings. This is especially true for those receiving inadequate care from their mother, the white hen with the sorted past. I’m not sure if she’s too young to know how to protect the tykes or simply lacks motherly instincts. The fuzzy quartet has lost two of its cute members during the first week of their lives. The two survivors paddle around the pond alone (above) while the hen hangs out with her friends. Their future looks bleak. Below is the last portrait I took of their most recently departed sibling just two nights ago. Click both images to see larger ones for more detail.
August 19th, 2010 permalink
Try as she might, there is no way she can get her 11 ducklings under her wings to keep them all warm on a cool night. This hen is very protective and wary as you can tell from her defensive stance as I approach. If I get too close, the whole troop will head for the water in a split second.
August 16th, 2010 permalink
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.
August 16th, 2010 permalink
After three days in a secluded bay of the Brighton Millpond where she reestablished contact with her duck buddies, the HussyHen introduced her brood to human visitors and began training the tykes in the fine art of begging for food.
She’s not a particularly attentive mom. Most hens keep their very young chicks close to their sides for the first week or so. This one lets her kids wander. It’s difficult to get all four in the same shot. Seems like her pals (the four drakes and a couple of others) are helping her guard them but that isn’t typical duck behavior. Below, the HussyHen brings up the rear of a feathered parade. Note how the small ones are informally corralled. Maybe it protects them from “ducknapping” by other hens (see next post) as much as the pond’s hungry turtles.
August 3rd, 2010 permalink
Two events happened within the past two days that are tied together in a rather depressing way:
Last night, on the corner of West and North Streets, I photographed what I would call a grove of 50 milkweed plants. Some were almost five feet high in this sunny corner lot where a vacant house awaits its fate. The plants were vigorous and sported a multitude of pods. When photographed with my flash, the undersides of the leaves appear the same color as the still-green pods. It’s a dark corner, and I planned to return during the day to see if any monarch butterfly caterpillars had found these plants. It’s their prime food source and place to form their chrysalises before the next generation leaves for its wintering grounds in Mexico.
I posted a “glamor shot” of the pond’s only all black duck last February that hinted at her beauty. But she’s had a hard time of it since. In early spring, she developed a limp. She’s a large duck so it made it difficult for her to waddle. Then I noticed the back of her neck was defeathered, a clear sign drakes had mated with her and ripped them out, a rather violent courtship ritual I don’t understand. No nesting took place afterward but her limping stopped. Now mid-summer, the sun has bleached her beautiful black coat to brown. She’s molting and looks bedraggled (below) with broken feathers.
Two nights ago, I found the black duck had a newborn duckling at her side! The duckling was so small I didn’t get too close because it would stress mom. Consequently, my shots are blurry. I watched her share parenting with another hen. Each took turns guarding the little fellow, not typical duck behavior. I attributed it to her being an inexperienced, first time mom. I looked forward to watching this black duckling with a brown chest grow up. His unique coloration makes him easy to identify.
The grove of milkweeds were mowed down today. Only two of the plants were left to grow. The black duck doesn’t have the little duckling following her anymore. I suspect a turtle got him although there’s a slight chance he was duckknapped by another hen. That sometimes happens. I’ll check around the pond for him. Within the blink of an eye, these events happened and probably no one is aware except the readers of this blog. They’re minor events in the grander scope of Life, but they have an impact here. Now.
July 20th, 2010 permalink
The Brighton millpond has a slew of ducklings now and more will follow well into September. This particular hen is quite tolerant of me. I’ve gotten within four feet of her and her duckling trio (two brunettes and a blond) when they are on land. She stands her ground between me and the youngsters.
The above picture was taken from the boardwalk above her when the chicks were about five days old. In the larger image, you can notice the hen hasn’t had time to groom her feathers because she’s busy protecting the little ones. The picture to the right was taken on the same night to show how tiny the wings are at this age. Within 2-3 months, those wings will be large and strong enough to lift a fully grown duck.
July 2nd, 2010 Comments Off permalink
In the blink of an eye, ducklings become ducks. You can see the 2-day-old chicks (below) are no longer able to huddle under mom by the time they are two weeks old (above). When they are very young, the chicks swim glued to the sides or their moms, but within a few days, they bound ahead of her or lag behind by several feet. The hen is very aware of her surroundings and calls the chicks back to her side when she senses danger. More broods lose a few of the young in the first days to large fish and natural causes such as disease and parasites. This brood’s mom is very attentive and all five are still with us. For now.
Below is another hen with 3 almost fully grown ducklings. It’s early enough in the season she may have another brood or two before the nesting season ends. You can see how both moms watch every move I make when I’m near their offspring. They are evaluating the danger and might tell their ducklings to bolt at any moment.
January 1st, 2010 permalink
This duckling seems like a good visual representative for cheering in the New Year since I don’t have a diapered baby to photograph. It was taken in mid-June and belonged to a family with seven other balls of fluff. I watched this brood grow up. In this shot, this guy is no longer a baby. He’s more like a teenager.