How to Wear a Duck

February 26th, 2016     6 comments     permalink

It isn’t every day I have an opportunity to wear a duck. It’s only happened three times in my years of reporting about the nature at the millpond. Two of those times were in the summer of 2014 when a Mallard drake landed on my shoulder twice in a parrot imitation.

It isn't every day I wear a duck on my head

On Wednesday night, Florence, the millpond’s resident white Mandarin duck, suddenly landed on my head during a mighty snowstorm with a bitter wind. I had my camera strap around my neck so I was bearly able to point the lens at what I guessed was my head and fire off a few shots to prove I was wearing a duck. This is the only shot that included most of the bird and enough of me to verify the event. She didn’t stay long, less than a minute.

I feel gratified she did this and am grateful she didn’t poop on my stocking cap. This is her third winter at the pond. Up until about a month ago, she wouldn’t eat out of my hand although she would come within a couple of feet. All of a sudden that’s changed. I guess she trusts me enough (or is hungry enough) to come closer this winter. If any readers have had her perch on them, I’d love to hear about it in a comment.

The hungry northerners

January 28th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

As soon as the ducks recognize me, they come flying and running toward me

The northern Ducks quickly devour their rations

Ducks spending the winter at the north end of the millpond get fewer handouts than the waterfowl near the dam. If you go up there, you’ll find the ducks will rush toward you as soon as they realize you have food for them. They will quickly learn to recognize you if you visit them with any regularity.

You’ll enjoy watching the birds skid to a halt on the snow-covered ice. Ducks are rather clumsy in the air and their landings on ice take on a slapstick effect. Sometimes they will land on the head of another duck or pitch forward or backward landing on their chest or rear end.

Florence joins Emmett and other ducks on the railing to get her handout

Ducks have excellent eyesight. They recognize specific humans from more than 100 yards away. Mallards take to the air to reach me while the earthbound domestics flap their wings as they run in my direction. A handful of ducks usually fly up to the boardwalk railing and look me in the eye. Florence, our resident white Mandarin, has been especially friendly this winter. For her first two years at the pond, she remained at least two feet away. This year she eats out of my hand and onto the railing to say hello.

The mangled foot on the Mallard drakeThe duck that had a nasty encounter with a turtle in late summer (below) flew up to the railing on Wednesday. The wounds on his foot have healed, but holes remain in his webbing and one toe points straight up (see detail, right). It doesn’t appear to cause him any pain or hamper his mobility.

The duck bitten by a turtle late in the season has at least one mangled toe

Florence, jilted but perky

June 15th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Florence, the Brighton millpond’s resident Mandarin duck, has finally given up on bonded bliss with Castor and/or Pollux, the Pekin drakes that arrived last fall that she swooned over for months. She still spends time with the pair but got the message that neither is romantically interested in her. They know their DNA doesn’t mix with Mandarin but Florence hasn’t been told that apparently.

Florence is the only Mandarin duck on the millpond. Florence arrived in December, 2013. She's a Mandarin duck bred for show and is banded.

Florence seems to be a happy spinster. She flits from territory to territory on the pond and still takes pleasure in threatening duck four times her size with her ferocious quack that sounds more like a sneeze. Since we have no female Pekins on the pond now, she hasn’t had an opportunity to play nursemaid at their nests this summer, but she seems capable of filling her days with other activities.

Even though she’s been at the pond since December, 2013, the majority of park visitors still think she’s a baby Pekin since most aren’t aware of the Mandarin breed.

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.

Florence’s futile swooning

December 26th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence is in peak condition and wants a memorable holidayChristmas Eve: Our resident Mandarin duck, Florence Nightingale, is celebrating her first anniversary near the millpond. She arrived at a Brighton birdfeeder in a mid-December snow storm with two compadres. The second white hen swallowed a fish hook and died in March. The third bird, a naturally colored Mandarin hen, still visits the bird feeder downstream. There was early confusion. I thought they were Wood Ducks until a Mandarin owner in Utah set me straight.

Devotionn isn't enough to win the heart of a Pekin drakePoor Florence has her heart set on bonding with either Castor or Pollux, the Pekin pair that arrived in October. I still can’t tell them apart. Mandarins cannot breed with Pekins, but Florence didn’t get the memo.

She sidles up to the drake, at least four times her size, to let him know she’s his. Sometimes, in moments of clarity, she realizes her overtures aren’t being reciprocated and she’ll switch her allegiance to his partner, but she definitely favors one of the pair. She doesn’t have visions of sugarplums dancing in her head on this eve of Christmas. She has visions of motherhood.

No, she hasn’t fainted (below). She’s inviting the drake of her dreams to consummate their imagined relationship so they can have a bliss-filled holiday together. He ignores her blatant advances like Johnny Depp does on red carpets.

The Pekin drake ignores Flo's overtures


Florence: The millpond minx

December 14th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence, our resident Mandarin hen, has always been very comfortable around Pekin ducks. I imagine she was raised with them. Ducks usually pal around with ducks of similar size. Not Florence. She only weighs about 1.5 pounts while the Pekins are 10-12 yet she inserts herself right in the middle of Pekin society. She flits from Lewis and Clark to the other pair, Castor and Pollux.

Florence lets Castor or Pollux know shh finds their quackings endlessly fascinating

It’s a sight to see, but her motives aren’t platonic. She’s shamelesssly flirting, displaying her feminine charms to the boys. They ignore her overtures. The photos in “Whole lotta splashin’ going on” show how she mingles with the boys even when they are in hot pursuit of other ducks. Usually, the Pekin drakes ignore her. Their DNA can’t mix with Mandarins. Occasionally they will poke her with their bills to encourage her to leave them alone. She won’t have it. She finds their every raspy quack endlessly fascinating. Infatuation is powerful. Ask Tom Cruise.

Formation of a new sub-flock

December 6th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Swimming partners, Castor and Pollux have curly tail feathers

Castor and Pollux have joined Lewis and Clark as a new sub-flockCastor and Pollux have been at the Brighton millpond for a month now (above). Lewis and Clark arrived a month before them. None of the four ducks have been readily accepted by the other sub-flocks of domestics so they appear to have formed their own bachelor pod and often roost together.

Since SweetPea’s rescue, only two large domestic females inhabit the pond, Mrs PomPom and Franny. The new drakes haven’t paid any attention to Franny, but Buda and Buddy remain on high alert to chase the rogue quartet away from their beloved Mrs PomPom. Two of the four newbies pounced upon her 14 week old Pekin offspring once this week while I was at the pond. That might signal the youngster is a budding female, but the jury is still out. The attack may have been a show of dominance directed at a young drake.

Castor and Pollux are joined by Florence for a portraitThe four newbies could be quadruplets. The black leg bands on Lewis and Clark make them easy to identify on land, but when the foursome is in the water, I can’t tell them apart (above with the Captain and Jiminy in the background). The middle toes on Castor and Pollux (right) might be a tad longer than those of the other pair. How’s that for a ultra subtle identifier?  I’ll mislabel photos of the two pairs many times in the future. I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

Florence, the tiny Mandarin hen, is an equal opportunity Pekin companion. She swims with one subgroup of Pekins for a while then quickly shifts her allegiance to another. A Pekin occasionally expresses annoyance with her presence by taking a poke at her, but she opens her mouth and threatens the much larger bird to back off. She’s fearless. She knows she’s quicker and, if tensions get too high, she can fly away while the earthbound Pekins are left in the ripples.

Swimming with the big ducks

October 8th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence stays near her Pekin friends

Tiny Florence, a Mandarin duck bred for show, was surely raised with Pekin ducks. Normally, size rules in the duck realm; smaller ducks give larger ones a wide berth so they don’t be pecked. Not so with Florence. She roosts with the Pekins nightly and often spends the majority of daylight near them. Often it’s with Jemima and her beaus (above), but Flo spends time with the Buda Bunch and shows interest in the new duo, Lewis and Clark. If any of them bother her, she’s quick to show the inside of her tiny bill to let them know she’s a bird to be dealt with.

She’s figured out Pekin are big but characteristically docile. They typically react to her threats by getting out of her way. If a big duck gets up on the wrong side of the roost and takes a poke at her, she’s nimble enough to dodge it. Or she flies away, something Pekins like always-smiling Marold (below) can’t do at all.

Mrold is a happy, lumbering duck

Marold takes a holiday

September 1st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Marold is greeted at the south end of the millpond by Nurse Florence, ever the perfect hostess

Marold has remained at the north end of the Brighton millpond ever since he was dumped there with an associate, probably a female. Both arrived on May 31st, surely Easter presents gone awry. One of the two, named Harold and Maude at the time, was reported to have a broken leg in mid-June. By the time I arrived to rescue it, someone had picked it up and (reportedly) said they would take it to Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program for medical attention. It never arrived there so its fate is unknown. I renamed Harold Marold in her honor.

August 29th, I found Marold at the Tridge in the southern section of the pond. Nurse Florence, ever the cordial hostess with Pekins, was there beside him. They dined together on duck chow offfered and I hoped Marold would find his new environment to his liking since it would be best for him not to winter at the north end. But it was not to be. The next night, he was back in his usual territory and, mysteriously, last evening he couldn’t be found at all. I’m hoping he is still exploring other regions of the pond and was lodged on a residential lawn on the west shore. Marold is giving Buda some competition in being the largest duck at the millpond. I’ve never seen them side by side, but Marold is a massive duck whose bulk causes him to lumber instead of waddle. Because his bill isn’t bright orange like most Pekins, I’m fairly sure he’s got Aylesbury relatives in his mongrel lineage. They have pink bills.

No joy for Jemima; hope for Mrs PomPom

June 5th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Ever attentive, Jiminy and Captain D. Hookt wait for Jemima to come swimming with them

Jemima suns herself on the banks of the Brighton millpond with Nurse Florence nearbyJune 1: It’s official. She gave it her all for the full 28 days, but Jemima has come to the conclusion the remaining egg won’t not hatch and has left her duties nest sitting. Don’t think less of her because of it. She’s a Pekin, a farm breed known to be poor sitters / mothers because farmers stolen their eggs for eons, and now incubate them in mechanical contraptions if they aren’t scrambled and served at Denny’s.

Jemima’s suitors, Jiminy and Captain D. Hookt, are glad to have her back in the swing of pond life. They wait patiently for her to finishing pondside preening (above) so they can take evening swims, and they will be ready to frolic in romance with her as soon as she gets the urge to nest again this summer. She will, too.

The end of nesting has led to the unemployment of Nurse Florence (above right, preening in the foreground), but she’s handling it well. She’s travelled to other regions in the pond to remind other subflocks of her availability, and often roosts with Jemima in hopes of a second nesting.

May 21: Meanwhile near the banks for City Hall bay, Mrs PomPom has been incredibly faithful to her nesting responsibilities. She’ll probably be as unproductive as Jemima, but effort is more important than results as we all learned in elementary school as benchwarmers on baseball teams.

Mrs PomPom's nest is not well protected but hasn't been vandalized yet

Her 18 eggs are clean and well organized In the past two years, PomPom has only had a handful of eggs, but she went all out this year. A dozen and a half spotless beauties fill her well constructed abode. She never read that, in real estate, the three most important factors are location, location, and location. While the nest is well protected from two angles, any marauding egg eating skunk or raccoon has a great view from two sides. If they mosey by, dinner is served.

The Buda Bunch hovers nearby but not too close to draw attention to what they hope will be their prodigies (except for Buddy who hasn’t received permission by Buda to participate). When I stop by to speak with them, Mrs PomPom comes charging out of her nest famished most of the time. But occasionally she just continues to hide. When I go to check on her, she’ll inflate her body to appear vicious and hiss. I pretend I’m scared and back off.

On June 4th, the eggs were found to still be in great shapeJune 4: I’ve got to hand it to her. She’s taking good care of the eggs. They are still clean and well-turned as shown in this more recent photo.

Wait a minute. Two of them are tinted pink. They weren’t there before and there are 19 eggs now! Seems another hen is shirking her responsibilities and expects PomPom to do her sitting for her. Bad call, but May the maternity gods bring her fluffy bundles of joy (but don’t count on it). She hasn’t succeeded since her arrival on July 1, 2011.


May 27th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Florence took several deep dives in the millpond yesterday

I saw what I think is unusual behavior on the part of Florence the Mandarin duck yesterday. She took several vigorous dives in the pond where she would swim about 10 feet a foot below the surface. The breed is considered to be a dabbling duck so they don’t usually dive for food. Maybe she just felt like changing the pace a bit.

Naming the Mandarin duck

May 21st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The white Mandarin tends Jemima's nest while mom is away

Ever since the two white Mandarin ducks arrived at the Brighton millpond, I’ve wondered what to name them. “Snowball” and “Snowflake” seemed just too easy and trite so I’ve continued to to refer to them as “the Mandarins” since no others of that species reside with us. Since one of them died from ingesting a fishhook, naming the remaining one has seemed as important because I can just say, “the white Mandarin.” An event has changed my plans:

A couple of days ago, Jemima was minding her own business incubating her eggs with the white Mandarin sitting beside the nest as she often does. The pond’s only remaining Indian Runner, Fred, decided it was time to climb up the cemetery hill and pay Jemima a conjugal visit (although he has no legal authority to do so). Jemima took off waddling to avoid Fred’s affections which Fred perceived as a sign of her deep devotion to him. Dodging headstones and waving American flags, the two romped through the graveyard as if it was an agility course.

When Jemima returned, the Mandarin relinquished her dutiesMeanwhile, the white duck moved over and sat on the 17 eggs (top). The little white duck couldn’t possibly blanket the entire clutch, but she did her best. Dressed in white, she’s definitely a nurse. Too bad she can’t be a mother due to the lack of a Mandarin drake in the vicinity, but she is a great substitute mom. When Jemima returned, she handed the duty back over to her and returned to her place beside the nest. So the little white Mandarin will forevermore be named Florence.

There are many important nurses throughout history, but Florence Nightingale gets the nod due to her efforts to reform care for the British military and ought to be recognized on this side of the larger Atlantic pond. Perhaps mentioning her here will remind the current administration the Veteran’s Administration owes the men and women in our own military care second to none. Hey, the Butterfly Effect is real.

Nurse Florence naps after a busy day of tending Jemima's nest

The lone woodie

February 17th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The lone Wood Duck drake visited the Brighton dam this weekend

The end of his feathers show wear but he's still impressiveThe three Wood Ducks remain transient. One night this weekend, only the unattached drake spent the night with the domestic ducks near the dam (above and right). Another night, both drakes were there without the female. I have reports the birds fly to South Ore Creek to visit a feeder there.

It appears they are comfortable with the 18 domestics but like to wander. There may be other food resources and roosts they frequent  in the area. We’ll see how their behavior evolves in the months ahead. Millpond visitors hope they continue to honor us with their presence.

The millpond’s most bonded pair

February 12th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The hen is the more affecitonate, the drake the defender

When other ducks come close, the drake Wood Duck threatens themThe smallest ducks on the millpond have the most demonstrative relationship. The hen snuggles up but the male isn’t particularly receptive yet.

You can tell he’s interested when other drakes like Rusty come near her (right). The woodie threatens them with mock strikes too quick for my camera. He thrusts his head toward the offender with his bill wide open like he’ll inflict a savage bite. The drakes scurry out of his range. Since he’s less than half their size, they’re probably humoring him.

Three’s a crowd

February 7th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The bonded pair of Wood Ducks has excluded the other Wood Duck drake

On Tuesday, I saw one white Wood Duck drake threaten the other one to stay away from the Wood Duck hen. The excluded one seems to have accepted his fate, but he stays close to the bonding pair. We’ll see how this plays out in the months ahead. Since I haven’t figured out which drake is which, I might not be able to record a shift in the pairing, however. Hopefully, Moxie will come back when the weather improves and we can have two bonded pairs at the millpond and two sets of what will probably be the cutest ducklings in Michigan.

Sidling and love pecks

February 1st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Love pecks on the neck and chin are given

The hen is rather demonstrative with her overturesThe Wood Ducks court differently than Mallards. The hen is intent upon ingratiating herself to one of the white drakes and touches him often. Mallards rarely touch each other during courtship even at the peak of the season.

The woodie hen sidles up to the drake and bumps him. It’s cute how she does it casually but it’s obviously intentional. She plants pecks on his neck and chin. I haven’t seen him return the affectionate favors. He disinterested now, but he’ll become responsive when his seasonal hormones kick in and eggs won’t freeze.
The birds touch sides when they are at rest
The pair rests together touching sides, something Mallards don’t do even when they’ve bonded for the spring season. The other male doesn’t appear to care. The three roost together (above) but the third one doesn’t try to compete. Maybe he’s got his eye on a ravishing domestic hen four times his size. There are five voluptious hens sharing his realm near the millpond dam.

Now it’s a tiny trio

January 31st, 2014     1 comment     permalink

The contrast of the naturally colored female with the two pure white birds is a sight to see

One white woodie has a blue leg band. The other a green one.The third wood duck has joined the other two near the Brighton dam. I’m not sure if they will be long term residents or just visitors. I know Melonie downstream on Ore Creek has been feeding them so they might continue to frequent both places.

The trio probably escaped togetherAll three birds are banded so I doubt they were simply abandoned. It’s more likely they escaped and there’s a distraught owner in the region. Unlike typical domestic ducks that are demanding and messy pets, these cannot be difficult to maintain or house.

The white birds appear to both be drakes. Their body size and shape is similar to doves especially when they are in the water (top).

The female seems to favor one of the drakes. Hen make the initial overtures to bond.

The female groomed the drake's chest a bitThe hen is actively courting one of the drakes. I saw her groom his chest (left and below) as they floated.

It would be a treat if we had tiny ducklings from this pair at the millpond this spring. Woodies nest in trees and prefer being next to the water because ducklings leap to the ground/water when they fledge. Nest can be as high as 60 feet up although most are much lower. These adults aren’t spooked by humans so they might bring their young close enough to photograph. Then again, the pair might become instinctually more secretive when nesting begins.

While the two nuzzle, the odd drake does a wing flap

We’re on it!

January 28th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

Note the point of feathers on the back of the head and the longish tail

callduck1a_robert_300Rest assured. A growing cadre of duck aficionados monitor the millpond day and night. Reports are filed, surveillance videos taken, and strategies developed to counter any feathered terrorist attack or evil doer stepping into our impenetrable net. Unlike the NSA, we are not authorized to shut down any flyways or conduct body cavity searches.

On Monday, before anyone read my early morning post about the Call Duck’s night with the 19 Main Streeters, four emails arrived announcing its arrival complete with photos and videos. I love it! The photos and video in this post were contributed by Robert Cameron, intrepid staffer at the Wildernest store across the street from the millpond. He is willing and capable of enduring brutal conditions on behalf of birds and beasts of all species regardless of their gender, color or political affiliations.

Video Notes: The new arrival is the small white duck resting in the upper center. At the very beginning of the video, a large brown duck with white wing tips waddles through the scene. That’s Bacall, the one making the incessant racket. She was dumped at the pond last summer along with Bogie probably after neighbors threatened legal action to silence her. The white and tan duck limping is Desi. Maybe his foot fell asleep while he was resting? The large white duck in motion is Buda.

The duck's bill is short and cuteAbout the new arrival: See the point on the back of its head? Both Robert and I question my first judgement. Call ducks have round heads. This bird’s head feathers and tail length are more typical of Wood Ducks. The two transient white ducks are traveling with our resident female woodie. Googling reveals woodies have a natural white color phase although they tend to have short lives in the wild because they’re more visible to predators. Further, some hatcheries are selectively breeding white woodies. Woodies are good fliers. If owners forget to clip wings, off they go.

Know your millpond surveillance team will continue to monitor this issue of international importance.

Whose Calling?

January 27th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

The contrast in size between Buda and teh Call Duck is like David and Goliath The little duck seems relaxed around bigger ducks

Well. Well. We have an overnight guest at the Main Street duck’s Sunday night pajama party. I got a call from a Brighton resident the day of our big mid-December storm. She had tiny white ducks at her feeding station downstream from the millpond. A couple weeks later, a millpond visitor told Joyce at the Wildernest store there were three small ducks mixed in with the Main Street flock — two whites and a brown.

Note this Call Duck's long tailLast night was the first time I met one of them, a white Call Duck [see note in comments]. It was lying beside Buda, the biggest duck at the milllpond, so it was quite a contrast (above). It has a longer tail than the other ducks so it looks almost dove-like (right). Call Ducks are the Shih Tzus of duckdom. They are so cute and small (< 1.5 pounds), bet you’d love to carry one in your shoulder bag but, unlike fashionable lapdogs, it would fill it with poop. Call Ducks were selectively bred from Mallard stock in 15th Century Holland. They are noisy birds so, if tied up, they would call in wild ducks to be trapped/shot for market. Now they are bred for pets and show.

Call ducks have cute, short bills and rounded headsThe millpond’s overnight guest has a leg band. It is probably a wayward pet that became disoriented during the snowstorm along with its buddy. The brown duck they have been seen with is our fickle friend, the female Wood Duck, who pops in and out of the millpond when the mood suits her. As spring approaches, it will be interesting to see if these three diminutive ducks continue to stick together and frequent the millpond.

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