March 12th, 2015 permalink
As spring approaches, the domestic drakes at the millpond are beginning to think of romance. It’s still at the fantasy stage, but they are sidling up to the always charming and vociferous Franny, the only surviving Rouen hen on the pond.
Dumpling hasn’t figured out how to win hearts yet. Rather than bobbing heads and staying in close proximity, he flat-out chases Franny trying to tackle her. The other night (left) was comical as Franny slid on the glazed surface of the snow with Dumpling in hot pursuit. She eluded him this night then clucking her annoyance to her bonded partners since they did nothing to protect her. Neither of the drakes have a chivalrous feather on their body.
Since SweetPea departed to spend her dotage enchanting drakes at Michigan Duck Rescue (She’s fine and has a new retinue of drakes wooing her, BTW.), Fred (right) has been at loose ends. He’s started noticing Franny has potential as the mother of his ducklings. For the past month, he’s been ingratiating himself to her well-established boyfriends, Dazzle and Rusty, and has slowly turned the triad into a quad; Franny and three suitors.
Dazzle and Rusty are oblivious to his intentions. Fred has a history of usurping the affections of hens. He elbowed past SweetPea’s beaus to win her heart two years ago. Now he’s employing the same nefarious tactics with Franny’s docile princes. It will all transpire within the next month. Hens will be sitting on eggs come April, and Franny will be among them. She lost two clutches last summer to raccoons. Maybe she’ll do better this year. If the tykes are thin with tan and white patches, you’ll know who’s their daddy. It probably won’t be Dumpling. He’s good at the chase but so timid other males usually push him aside.
August 24th, 2014 permalink
Duke and Fred are missing their main squeeze, SweetPea. She’s nesting somewhere and I’ve checked all of her usual places and she’s not in any of them. I’m sure I’ll find it some evening when I follow her home from a millpond bath so stay tuned. This is only her second nest of the season. In 2013, she had 5 of them. The old girl is slowing down.
March 23rd, 2014 permalink
Two veteran members of the Dam Tribe, MooseTracks and Desi, have disappeared. A coyote has been seen two blocks from the millpond. It’s the suspected killer of both birds on March 6 or the dark morning hours of the seventh. I originally wondered if they might have been stolen since both birds disappeared on the same night, but they were street-smart and wary of humans so it’s doubtful. I’ve been told it’s not unusual for a predator to kill more than one bird on a visit. No remains were found.
The domestic birds wintering near the dam have been “sitting ducks.” They are flightless and are essentially enclosed by the dam, bridge and fences. A predator can surprise them there and make a kill as they scatter in panic. Bogie was lost less than a month before and was probably killed by the same animal or pack. Now that there is more open water, the remaining birds are more likely to escape an attack, but not immune.
MooseTracks has been a favorite of park visitors since 2006. He’s been “the enforcer” of duck justice near the dam, and the only Ancona duck at the pond. He is survived by at least one offspring, Parfait who is currently residing at the north end of the pond.
Desi arrived with three other White and Tan Indian Runners in May, 2011. Fred is the only survivor of the quartet now. I was fortunate to photograph SweetPea and Fred dining with Desi (top duck) on their last night together, March 6 (above right). Desi and Fred have brought smiles to thousands of faces with their comical behaviors and constant presence near Main Street.
Since June, 2011, when the alpha male of the Dam Tribe, Gramps, died from a snapping turtle attack, six of the original eight members have died including the popular Afroduck who still has a Facebook page in his honor. Fred and Desi are recent inductees to the tribe so the mortality rate has been 70% in 31 months. Only SweetPea and Duke remain from the original cast. With the arrival of 17 dumped ducks in 2013, I imagine there will be a major shift in duck politics as soon as the pond ice clears and sub-flocks establish their summer territories. Stay tuned.
January 17th, 2014 permalink
SweetPea is one of the few ducks to take advantage of the straw brought to the pond by an unknown donor. I’ve seen her rest on it several times during this extreme cold weather while most of the other ducks continue to slumber on the hard, cold ice.
What she likes even more than the straw, however, is the attention she gets from her drakes. Three of the four are shown up top. They are (l to r) Duke, MooseTracks, and Fred. Desi is in front of her out of the picture frame.
These five ducks, better known as the Dam Tribe, are often the subject of this blog because their group is usually near Main Street where the majority of park visitors congregate. They are also easy to identify because of their unique markings.
The duck least noticed is Duke. He’s a Rouen, a breed first developed in France and improved in England that’s also known as “Giant Mallards.” They arrived in the USA in about 1850. Mature Rouens average 8-10 pounds but can reach 12 pounds while typical wild Mallards weigh 3-4 pounds. Besides filling up a platter, the breed is known for their delicious meat. Unfortunately, the breed is endangered because the public isn’t willing to pay for it. It takes 24 to 32 weeks for Rouens to reach market weight while white Pekins are ready in only 7 weeks so Pekins have 95% of the U.S. meat duck market.
Duke is a typical Rouen, very calm and docile. He helps MooseTracks haphazardly guard SweetPea when randy drakes come calling, but most of the time, he stands in the background and tags along wherever the group decides to swim or stroll. He rarely leads the parade yet seems happy being the strong, silent type.
The comparison photos (below) illustrate there is no way his small wings could lift him for sustained flight. Even Fred, a flightless Indian Runner (right) has larger and longer wings. In a farm environment, it’s advantageous to raise birds that can’t fly away profits. At the Brighton millpond, it’s a disadvantage. Predators or mean spirited humans can overtake lumbering ducks, but Duke has managed well over the years. There are at least eight Rouen and Rouen Clair ducks at the Brighton millpond. We lost Duncan, a Rouen drake, to a foot infection last year.
November 6th, 2013 permalink
Fred and Desi have been amusing additions to the Brighton millpond since they arrived in May of 2011 with Lucy and Ethel. The ladies didn’t survive. Word has it one was hit by a car, and the other attacked by a dog or predator.
On a recent rainy evening when they had nothing planned, they agreed to pose for me so you could see their upright postures. Photoshop multiplied them for this composite portrait. Fred is the duck with the white chin. In the above image, there are 5 Desis and 3 Freds. Can you identify each of them? Hint: note the slight differences in their chest patterns.
They are White-and-Fawn Indian Runner ducks, a tall, thin breed that likes to scurry around on dry land. The breed was created to be champion egg layers instead of birds raised for meat that have more muscle mass. As males, they can’t lay an egg no matter how hard they try. That’s probably why they were abandoned. Lucy and Ethel may have been males, too. I named them without delving into such personal matters.
Indian Runners are also called “Penquin Ducks.” You can see why. I prefer thinking of them as muttering bowling pins. They don’t quack loudly, but whenever they are the least bit active, they incessantly mutter. Desi, with his mouth wide open, is demonstrating that capability in the above portrait.
September 2nd, 2013 permalink
You guessed it, Sweet Pea is nesting again. I saw her hop up into the raised garden bed between the sidewalk and Main Street two nights ago. She had two nests in those beds earlier this spring so I knew what she was up to. I found one egg that night, but last night I found that egg moved to another spot in the raised bed (probably had human transportation) where four other eggs were placed. That’s a total of 45 eggs this year (so far) in five different nests. Chances of successfully hatchings are similar to Stephen King penning a bouncy musical comedy.
Who is fathering these future failures? Buddy and Budda haven’t been making pilgrimages to the Dam Tribe territory lately so Fred (above left) and Desi (center and right) seem to be the primary partners of our Grande Dame these days. You can tell the two Indian Runners apart by looking at their chins. Fred’s is white while Desi’s has more tan on it. Their upright posture, goofy babbling, and comical gait are identical. They spend most of their days on each side of the love of their combined life. They are two of the millpond’s most amusing ducks and as 40% of the Dam Tribe, they are almost always near Main Street.
The other two members of the tribe are contenders. Duke (left) could possibly be a daddy-to-be, but he’s a back bencher and happy in his beta role to MooseTracks. Could MooseTracks be the father of some eggs? Since he arrived with SweetPea in 2006, he’s rarely in the mood to court her anymore. He treats her like a sister. He initiates flings on short jaunts to the north end of the pond. The females find his infrequent visits and dashing good looks irresistible, but he always comes home to the Tribe.
August 14th, 2013 permalink
Fred is one of our two White and Fawn Indian Runners at the Brighton millpond. When he and Desi (the other one) are dutifully following SweetPea around the lawn he elicits giggles from park visitors. His goofy, jerky movements, constant babbling, and upright stance have a cartoon-like quality. Yet in this image, he has qualities of a Danseur Noble. Every perfectly preened feather; the studied positions of his head, wing and tail, and the theatrical quality of evening light all project avian beauty at its best. Bravo, Fred!
July 28th, 2013 permalink
Oh, the tangled and ever-changing relationships of the five members of the Dam Tribe. Currently, Desi is SweetPea’s preferred beau. He’s the White and Fawn Indian Runner with the tan chin (left foreground, above). For some reason, Desi has decided Duke, a Rouen, can’t be trusted around his beloved. Perhaps SweetPea finds Desi’s devotion to her stifling and has wiggled her tail feathers in Duke’s direction.
While standing on land, when Desi lowers his head toward Duke, the Rouen knows it’s time to get out of nipping range (left). In the water, Desi chases Duke and sometimes makes him leave the pond. I’m not sure what toggles Desi’s switch to Rant Mode. At other times, the two drakes are pals again.
Meanwhile, SweetPea preens as if nothing is going on, and MooseTracks stays clear of the fracas. For a while, the moose cruised the length of the pond seeking bliss with any available hen, but his devil-may-care pursuit of passionate encounters has morphed into dreary loitering with bands of drakes staring blankly into the murky millpond in the same way men stare into coffee cups after the bars close. Like deer, drakes seek the affections of hens for only a portion of the year. The rest of the time, they fill their days with finding food, sleeping, and trying to convince feathered companions they are stronger and deserve a higher rank in the flock.
June 23rd, 2013 permalink
Park visitors anticipate disaster as ducks stand at the very edge of the Brighton millpond dam, but their fears are rarely justified. It’s dangerous for very young ducklings, but after about two weeks, they sometimes go over the top, bounce around in the rapids and then climb back up to join mom again. Occasionally, an adult duck will err and slip over the crest. If it’s a duck that can fly, it’s not a big deal, but the resident farm ducks are earthbound so they can be in trouble. Last March, three adult ducks were swept over the edge while mating and it was rather dramatic, but all survived. I’ve been told a Pekin named Lois took the trip years ago and became a residence downstream thereafter. Stories involving the dam usually have happy endings.
As the Grande Dame of the Dam Tribe, SweetPea has spent years listening to the water babble. On this evening with a sunset tinted in pinks, she was searching for things to eat in the crannies while Fred watched (above). Fred finds everything SweetPea does endlessly fascinating since he’s always looking for opportunities to become amorous. The moving water concentrates all sorts of floating goodies in this bottleneck on its journey to the Great Lakes, and the ducks know it. Even the ducklings.
The photo at right shows SweetPea at the crest of the falls with Fred on the other side. I took some liberties with it in Photoshop to create the close up (below) since the original wasn’t very good.
February 26th, 2013 permalink
A major winter storm is approaching, but Fred isn’t a bit concerned. He’s seen here swimming beside the retreating edge of the ice. The pond’s ice has thinned so, if we get the predicted 6″ or more of wet snow, it might sink from the weight and make the pond into a very large snow cone. It wouldn’t taste very good unless you relish your cone flavored by duck and muskrats. Fred and the other 6-7 dozen wintering ducks will stay happy as long as there is a little open water for them to swim in.
February 20th, 2013 permalink
Wild ducks are nimble and quick. The domestic ducks at the Brighton millpond are less so. Bred to be large so they fill a roasting pan, their wings can’t support them getting off of the ground for any length of time. For the most part, they are Earth bound.
The distance of 12″ between the sidewalk surrounding the millpond and the slippery ice-covered pond requires some serious thought before the domestics take the leap. They look down at it and wait until one of the group takes the lead. Then, one by one, they jump. SweetPea is often the last one. This time, I actually saw her “fly” for about three wing-flaps. It’s unusual to see her in the air. It wasn’t graceful, but the old girl is still able to be aloft if only for a brief moment.
January 17th, 2013 permalink
At least 75% of the ducks that summer at the Brighton millpond flew south in late fall, but 70-80 ducks have remained for the winter. Forty percent of them are domestic (farm breeds) or domestic/wild hybrids. Most domestics can’t fly or can’t sustain flight long enough to migrate. The others are wild Mallards that had no motivation to leave since visitors feed them and they have enough body fat to endure the cold.
During daylight, almost all of the millpond’s wintering ducks go to the southern end of the pond to cajole food from park visitors. As night falls, most fly the half-mile to the pond’s north end (near Grand River). There’s more open water there with better protection from predators and humans. Those staying near Main Street day and night are domestic ducks that cannot fly. They include The Dam Tribe, The Buda Bunch, and few others for a total of 14. Some nights there are more overnight guests, but rarely do the 14 regulars stray from the area during winter months.
Joyce Schuelke, owner of the Wildernest store, recently wrote about this winter “night crew” on her site’s blog. You can learn more about them there.
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.
December 5th, 2012 permalink
November 26: During summer months, the Dam Tribe stays near the Main Street dam and the Buda Bunch is out of their sight in the bay north of Brighton’s City Hall. Males from Buda’s group visit the Dam Tribe’s territory to foist their affections on the hapless SweetPea, but that’s a story for another time.
This changes as winter approaches. The wild waterfowl moves to the pond’s north end lured by open water and better food stocks, but the farm ducks can’t fly to join them. Instead, the Buda Bunch barges into the Dam Tribe’s stomping grounds to winter with them. This changes the dynamics and there’s a period of confusion as the ducks compete for their places in the pecking order.
Then there are the stragglers. Dazzle, the black duck that shines bright green in sunlight, isn’t affiliated with any buddies or subflocks. He’s low on the totem pole as evident when Buda’s wingduck (a feathered “wingman”) nods his way (top). Dazzle pulls back expecting he’ll be bitten. In that same image, note how another drake in Buda’s group nips a Buff duck that doesn’t know he’s in charge now. Even Mrs PomPom gets frequent pokes from members of her own group (Dexter in this case) as Dam Tribe rivals surround her (above right).
March 29th, 2012 permalink
You need a scorecard to plot winners and losers in the tussles of the Dam Tribe ducks. Two weeks ago, the fawn and white Indian Runner was held under water by MooseTracks until he learned his lesson. Now the tables have turned, and he informs MooseTracks he’s a significant rival who demands his respect. At least for today while he’s on a tear.
Moments earlier, both of them gave the uninvited Pekin the Bum’s Rush (below) and did a good job of it, but note how MooseTracks takes a jab at the Runner in the scuffle (below left). Perhaps the excitement of the moment encouraged the Runner to let MooseTracks know that wasn’t appreciated.
The flurry of activity began when the Indian Runner took the lead in chasing away the Pekin who comes calling to his beloved SweetPea (below) quite often. On other nights I’ve been there, however, he’s acted as a disinterested bystander while SweetPea is ravaged.
Following the drubbing by the ducks (above right), the Pekin heads back to the Buda Bunch near Brighton’s City Hall, but takes a poke at another member of the Tribe (below right) probably just to prove he’s not a wuss. Loyalties and displays of dominance change quickly while the mating season is in full swing.
March 20th, 2012 permalink
Who needs Hollywood when dramatic adventures are brought to you in 3D and Surround Sound at the Brighton millpond! Pardon my dwelling on the brutal mating habits of ducks, but they are in high gear now and quite fascinating. Here’s last evening’s dramatic event:
The large male Pekin dominated by Buda cut loose from his 5-duck flock to swim at a fast clip from the bay near Brighton’s City Hall to the millpond dam. He had made the trip several times before and knew exactly where he was going. Without acknowledging the Dam Tribe’s three drakes upon his arrival, he cornered SweetPea for a unannounced conjugal visit. She wasn’t happy to see him. The drakes in her immediate circle did nothing except quack to stop his amorous advances (both photos below).
The two Indian Runners (Desi and Fred) joined the attack. One has been SweetPea’s prime suitor since mid-January. He didn’t seem concerned the Pekin was usurping his budding relationship.
The Dam Tribe males just watched while voicing some agitation. None jumped in to defend the only female in their millpond family. SweetPea struggled but was easily overpowered by the trio.
Moving into deeper water near the crest of the dam, the Pekin mounted her and one of the Indian Runners climbed on top of him in the frenzy of the moment. The other four drakes hovered but, as usual, offered no assistance as she was held under water by the hefty Pekin.
As this drama unfolded, the ducks weren’t aware they were drifting toward the falls. Suddenly SweetPea, the Pekin, and an Indian Runner were hurled over the edge the rapids and boulders!
This unexpected jolt freed SweetPea from the Pekin’s clutches and she bounced back up into the millpond. The Pekin was swept into the rushing waters (below). Like most Pekins, this one cannot fly. Its wings can’t raise its large body into the air. You wouldn’t believe that, however, if you saw how he managed to get enough lift from his small wings to charge back up the falls using his webbed feet to slap the water.
It wasn’t graceful, but it was effective. Once back in the millpond, two of the Dam Tribe drakes regained their senses and chased the brute back toward City Hall as SweetPea dusted herself off with a couple of wing flaps of her own. Curiously, the Indian Runners, who were quite happy to help the Pekin attack SweetPea only moments before, changed sides and helped MooseTracks vanquish the intruder.
This action-packed drama happened within two minutes. The photos aren’t terrific, but they illustrate how the event unfolded. During the next few months, encounters like this will take place many times each day at the Brighton millpond as drakes vie for chances to father the ducklings to be born this spring and summer.
March 16th, 2012 permalink
One of the two surviving Indian Runners has been courting the lovely, but fickle, SweetPea for a couple of months while he tries to become an accepted member of her Dam Tribe. Her trio of drakes tolerate his presence most of the time, but aggressively chase away his brother who was his loyal companion before the mating season began. The 3-duck jury is still out; sometimes they threaten him but often ignore his amorous encounters with SweetPea. Maybe they turn a blind eye to her casual flings knowing she’ll never reject their own.
There are other moments when, for no apparent reason, one of the drakes decides to brutally attack him. He’s usually not actively pursuing SweetPea’s attention at those times. Perhaps they sense his vulnerability or irrational rutting instincts flood their brains. If one drake attacks, the others join in. In this recorded encounter (top and right), two drakes held his head under water for a couple of minutes. He struggled, gulped air, and finally found the strength to break away this time.
Following the attack, his fawn-and-white brother watched as he flapped his wings (below) to toss off the tension. Later that night, all of the ducks involved returned to SweetPea and bedded down as if nothing happened. Maybe these frequent near-drownings are merely dominance displays and the occasional murders are simply accidents. We can’t read a duck’s mind. The murders might be First Degree, Crimes of Passion by enraged rivals, or simply Duckslaughter where there’s no intention at all. The millpond retains many mysteries.
December 26th, 2011 permalink
Hosting a Christmas Eve dinner party can be a headache. I like to keep it simple, just a casual affair with about 50 of my closest friends. They arrived on time as light snow fell. They were reserved in their greetings although a few shouted to tell stragglers to paddle faster. The Indian Runners looked especially spiffy in their fawn and white attire (top).
There was a bit of confusion as the guests took their places. I had to remind a few of them not to step on the other guests (above, right). Some of the more polite ones were taken aback by this crude behavior.
When the first course was passed, some eager mouths gaped as pellets sailed through the air (above, left), but my guests can’t seem to grasp the concept of gravity at all and the chow landed at their webbed feet. Soon, the guests relaxed as they realized there was enough food for everyone. They politely shared the bounty (above, right) as carols played in the loud speakers and twinkling lights waved gently in the breeze above us. Foraging on holidays is such a bother, I’m sure they all enjoyed themselves. Me? I was thrilled. There were no pots and pans to scrub.
September 19th, 2011 permalink
A quartet of show-quality fawn and white indian runner ducks was dumped at the pond on May 21, 2011 by some thoughtless owner. Only two have survived. One of the quartet was killed by a car on Second Street and the other one was injured and subsequently died, cause unknown.
Faith, a devoted caregiver of the domestic ducks abandoned at the pond, has visited these two throughout the summer and reported their meanderings to me from time to time. We talked last week and noted the ducks had changed their routine and returned to the millpond. She’ll be surprised they have ventured to the Main Street area where all of the other ducks are located. Previously, they were loners. This is quite a change. I’m not sure what prompted it. Maybe cooler weather encourages flocking behavior?
Indian runners prefer running around on land, but they look graceful when swimming (below). Their upright posture allows them to sprint instead of waddle. They are lean ducks bred to produce eggs instead of meat. I’ve read they are lousy nesters. They drop eggs wherever the mood strikes and don’t tend them at all. I originally named them Lucy, Desi, Ethel, and Fred. In my first photo, two had curly feathers above their tails indicating they were drakes. Neither of the survivors have curly feathers so it appears Lucy and Ethel are the survivors.
November Update: Since writing this post in September, the two remaining runners have grown curly feathers above their tails. Apparently they are first-year males. Instead of Lucy and Ethel, we have Desi and Fred. I’ve changed the title accordingly.
May 27th, 2011 permalink
New ducks arrived at the Brighton millpond on May 21st. They were probably Easter presents for some kids and, once they got too big, were brought to the pond because the ignorant owner felt it would be a good place for them to spend the rest of their lives.
They’re still alive and that’s a good sign. Sometimes wild ducks aren’t happy to see new arrivals invading their territories. Domestic ducks often lack the skills needed to cope with street smart wild ones.
They are beautiful Indian Runner Ducks known for their egg laying abilities. Sometimes called “Penquin Ducks” because of their upright stance, the breed has a probable history spanning 2,000 years. Runners come in an assortment of colors. The closest color I could find online are Fawn and White Indian Runners, but these aren’t a perfect match. Three of the four have bright golden-orange bills. I think there are two males (identified by the curly feathers above the tail) and two females. I’m tentatively naming them Lucy, Desi, Fred, and Ethel.