The Rescue of Mrs PomPom

April 12th, 2015     3 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom's right eye is encrusted shut from mating stress

Mrs PomPom’s condition went from bad to horrific this past week (above). By Saturday, her right eye was completely encrusted in dried fluids as the result of incessant attacks from the Brighton millpond drakes. I called Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary Saturday evening to arrange for her rescue. Fate found Matt & Theresa Lyson, the founders, in Brighton. Within five minutes, they were on the scene and with the help of Ian Anderson, PomPom was quickly cornered and captured.

Once wrapped in a towel in the arms of Theresa, she calmed down (below). The Sanctuary will begin treatment for her wounds and eye condition. If her condition requires it, she will be taken for veterinary care and I will cover the cost.

She’s was dumped at the pond four years ago. That’s a long run for a domestic duck dumped in with wild ducks. You can read about her many adventures on this blog including her first successful brood last September. Two of the three surviving ducklings have reached maturity and still reside at the millpond. Not only will she be missed by her four drakes, many millpond regulars will mourn her departure. They provided her with food and care over the years.

Mrs PomPom is caught to receive medical attention at Michigan Duck Rescue Michigan Duck Rescue's Theresa holds Mrs PomPom who is very relaxed after her capture

Mrs PomPom has lost her Easter bonnet

April 5th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom has already lost her crest so early in the season

Note her neck and eye woundThe night before Easter and Mrs PomPom has lost her bonnet. She’s a far cry from how she looked in October, 2011, a few months after arriving at the Brighton millpond. The Brighton millpond has a severe shortage of female domestic ducks so PomPom is the apple in the eyes of too many male suitors.

Spring has invigorated the boys and even though PomPom has four suitors, they offer her no protection against the advances of other Pekin drakes who indulge in conjugal visits. She already has wounds on her neck and right eye. The wounds will get worse as the mating season drags on for at least three months. I hope she nests early so she has time to heal.

Meet Dixie and Darth

December 28th, 2014     2 comments     permalink

Darth is in front, Dixie in back

The kids aren't excited by their new namesThe two surviving ducklings from Mrs PomPom’s first successful clutch (2014 Brood 26) since she was abandoned at the pond in July, 2011 have been named. As you can see, the birds weren’t amused by my choices (right), but they don’t read my blog anyway.

Dixie is the white one who obviously has a Pekin dad (probably Buda). Darth is the dark dark who was probably sired by Duke, a member of the Dam Tribe. He may be Dexter‘s child, PomPom’s Rouen pal, but his coloration is closer to Duke’s — very dark with no white neck ring. Duke had several “dates” with the accommodating white crested PomPom.

Below, the Buda Bunch (l to r: Buda, Dexter, Buddy, PomPom) cruises the pond with Dixie and Darth leading the parade. The two youngsters will be four months old on January 2. They still aren’t fully grown when compared with the adults, but they are on their way to being large, robust members of the millpond community. Dixie was thought to be a female, but these photos hint we have another male added to the pond — notice the tail feather beginning to curl. Sigh.

The Buda Bunch with Dixie and Darth leading the tribe

Swimming with the big ducks

October 24th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The white one is sired by a Pekin, the dark one by a Rouen

It’s astonishing how quickly ducklings grow. Mrs PomPom’s surviving pair are almost as large (but not as filled out) as the other ducks in the Buda Bunch now at less than two months old (above). They hatched on September 2.

The 8 week old duckling are in the foreground, mom is at the top sleepingAt left, they nap (foreground) with the rest of Buda’s sub-flock along the edge of the pond surrounded by fallen autumn leaves. Buda probably fathered the white one and Dexter, the only Rouen in the group, is probably the dark one’s dad. But it’s possible the ducklings were sired by other domestic ducks. Duke, the Dam Tribe’s Rouen, and Jiminy, one of Jemima’s significant others made frequent conjugal visits to PomPom all summer.

Ducklings have growth spurts like human children. For the first month, their wings remain totally undeveloped as they can gain body size and weight. Now that their bodies and bones are almost fully developed, their wings are growing. They have half of their first set of adult feathers now. When I visited them last evening, it took me a moment to realize they were the same ducklings I had seen the day before. The are noticeably larger and their plumage has grown.

Their personalities are decidedly different as well. The white one is a typical Pekin, curious and friendly. The dark one is calmer and stand-offish like the other Rouens on the pond.

Duck thieves

October 5th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom has done her best to shield her offspring from danger but has now lost 6 or her original 8 ducklings

A couple of months ago, a fellow millpond duck watcher told me he overheard a conversation by two adult males who were planning to capture millpond ducks for their dinner table. They were deciding which ones were plump enough to serve to their families. This past week, a woman was spotted attempting to lure ducks within reach. By the time I got to the pond to have a chat with her, she was gone. So was the third duckling in Mrs PomPom’s trio of month-olds (2014 Brood 26 shown in these pictures taken October 1).

The remaining yellow duckling was swimming erratically. It was uncharacteristically away from its mother and dark sibling (below, lower right corner) as if it was injured or had been traumatized.

The month-old yellow duckling was swimming erratically and uncharacteristically alone after a woman was sighted attempting to capture ducks at the Brighton millpond

I find it astonishing we have cretins in our midst who think the ducks in our community pond are theirs for the taking. These selfish bastards can purchase ducklings for a few bucks from their choice of online hatcheries or buy ducks for the platter at various specialty markets. Instead, they feel they have the right to rip apart duck families in an environment that’s already hostile to its residents.

They think millpond ducks are props in the park for their personal amusement. They don’t realize each duck is an integral part of families and sub-flocks, and have established relationships with their peers as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of people who consider them their feathered neighbors. At least once a month, someone asks me if I’ve seen Afroduck. Some have relocated to other states and come back to visit their extended families and want to check in with their millpond “friends.” Afroduck died in July, 2011 but the continuing interest in him shows the impact specific millpond birds can have on park visitors. That impact is trivialized by people who can’t think beyond their own wants who think they are “just ducks,” expendable creatures that will be replaced by others soon enough.

PomPom's trio pokes around the shoreline vegetation seeking things to eat, bugs and worms having high protein content so they can grow big and strong The more dominant duckling is the one missing. It's shown here with its dark sibling

Mrs PomPom has now lost six of her original eight ducklings, the first brood she has successfully hatched in the three years she has nested in about five attempts.

If you see anyone capturing, harassing, or injuring domestic ducks on the pond, call the police. They will issue a hefty fine. If you see anyone doing the same with any migratory bird including the ducks (mostly Mallards), geese, or swans, contact the local DNR at Island Lake. These birds are fully protected by Federal laws with fines and jail terms that will make the perpetrators’ head spin. I’d love to see that happen.

PomPom’s trio seems out of danger

September 29th, 2014     3 comments     permalink

A month's rest on the nest has helped Mrs PomPom recover from her mating wounds

With no recent deaths, the remaining trio of Mrs PomPom’s ducklings have a good chance of surviving to adulthood now. They are large enough to avoid being picked off by gulls, and the turtles have become less active now that the pond is cooling. Mrs PomPom (above) has been a fairly attentive mother. As you can tell from her rumpled feathers, she doesn’t have much time to preen while tending her offspring. At least her nesting and mothering duties have given her time to heal from wounds she acquired during the mating season.

All three of the youngsters look robust and have enough body mass to endure chilly nights although they don’t have much insulating fat on their tiny bodies yet. Ducklings grow quickly. Within another month, they will be almost the same size as mom with a full set of adult feathers to insulate them for winter.

The two ducklings that were bright yellow are changing into white birds now. One is a little larger than the other. The dark duckling is growing at the same pace even though he obviously has a different father

Their wings are still undeveloped. In the coming weeks, they’ll grow flight feathers so they can flee danger with short sprints, but they will never be able to fly distances. Their bodies will be too large for their wings to support in sustained flight.

Mrs PomPom’s surviving trio

September 22nd, 2014     2 comments     permalink

PomPom is an adequate mother but steps on her offspring often

The three survivors all seem alert and inquisitiveApparently, Ring-Billed Gulls have preyed on Mrs PomPom’s babies (Brood 26). I’ve received reports of gulls dive bombing the ducklings though no one has witnessed a successful hunt. Maybe they’re large enough to avoid hungry gulls now that they are 19 days old. It’s a good thing. Gulls that thrive on leftovers in parking lots all summer find the pickings slimmer in autumn so they return to their roots as waterbirds.

The father of the two yellow ones is probaby Buddy (shown) or BudaThe three surviving chicks are healthy and inquisitive as they waddle around looking for things to eat. PomPom is a clumsy mother. She stumbles over the babies. Drakes in the Buda Bunch bulldoze them, too. The kids bounce back up but don’t seem to learn from these encounters. Domestic ducks are rarely intellectually gifted.

The yellow ducklings might be any Pekin drake’s child but are most likely Buda’s or Buddy’s. Buda kept Buddy away from PomPom during the mating season but drakes are sneaky lovers. Since they are unemployed, they have all day to plot clandestine rendezvous.

A Rouen drake, either Dexter or Duke, probably fathered the dark duckling. As it matures, its markings might hint at the cad who charmed Mrs PomPom while Buda was pursuing his own nightly dalliance with the uncooperative, but accommodating, SweetPea.

Buddy watches the kids when they move closer to me

Mrs PomPom: Eight ducklings hatch!

September 6th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

PomPom walked the kids to the pond's shore

September 3: I found eight fuzzy ducklings being tended by Mrs PomPom the following night. Three eggs remained in the nest unhatched. The fate of the other three eggs from her original clutch of 14 is unknown but were probably rolled out of the nest by her when she realized they weren’t viable.

I found them all huddled underneath mom when I arrived. As two Canada geese strolled to the pond’s shore, they passed too close to Mrs PomPom and she moved the ducklings away from the much larger birds and threatened them to keep their distance. That’s a good sign. It means she has skills to defend her tykes that many domestic birds have lost in the breeding of their species.

Seven yellow ducklings along with one dark one PomPom threatens Canada geese as they come too close to her young

To keep the ducklings away from other ducks as well as the geese, she walked them onto the lawn beside the shore. On their way, three of the tiny birds toppled into a 6″ deep muskrat hole because they hadn’t encountered uneven terrain before (below right). PomPom didn’t notice until they started to peep. Agitated, she wasn’t happy when I approached them to lend a hand. As I scooped the birds out one by one, PomPom was frantic but didn’t peck my hand.

PomPom proudly introduces me to her offspring Three of the ducklings tumbled into a muskrat hole

Once the entire trio was rescued and stopped peeping, PomPom relaxed and presented the whole brood to me. Some of the youngsters will probably not survive the next two weeks, their most vulnerable time. But there’s hope some will reach adulthood before the cold nights of autumn roll into town. Brood 26 will surely be the subject of many future posts whatever lies ahead.

PomPom surprises her many fans

September 5th, 2014     4 comments     permalink

September 2 around Midnight: Whenever I feed the Buda Bunch, Mrs PomPom comes running from her nest to get in front of the others. The boys, being gentledrakes, oblige her. Tuesday night, Mrs PomPom didn’t arrive. I went to her nest site and pulled back the shrubs to make sure she was alright. She was sitting there as usual. In the shadows, I noticed a flash of yellow in the nest. SweetPea is notorious for breaking her own eggs when she sits on them due to her bread diet being calcium deficient. I thought that might have been the fate of PomPom’s eggs, too.

Mrs PomPom was resting comfortly atop her nest under the shrub

Then I heard a peep. Then I saw the yellow yolk color move. She did it! She hatched a duckling! The first one I’ve seen of hers since she arrived in August, 2011. Wait a minute. There’s more than one? Mrs PomPom raised up a bit and I could see several wiggling yellow balls of fluff. I also saw a couple of feet sticking straight up, but it’s not unusual for some ducklings to die while hatching.

What's that? A duckling?

I didn’t want to stress her out so I didn’t shoo her from the nest to get an accurate count. I went home and reviewed the photos I took and decided there were at least six survivors and would return the next evening to do a more accurate account. You’ll see the results in the next post. Stay tuned.

Oh, my. Several ducklings! ... and some are still hatching!

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.

Root, Root, Root for Mrs PomPom

May 3rd, 2014     3 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom photographed rooting in the neighborhoodThe ground has been saturated since the winter thaw. You’ll see grime on the bills of ducks foraging along the shores. They’re called “puddle ducks” since they get most of their nutrition from floating vegetation, but during spring hens actively root for insects, worms, and grubs. They need extra protein for egg production.

A lone egg dropped to stake her claim to nesting territoryMrs PomPom isn’t ashamed to have her portrait snapped while pigging out in leaf litter even though her insistent suitors have ravaged her lopsided crest while demanding prodigies. She’s staked her claim to nesting territory by dropping an egg on her 2013 nesting site, but hasn’t given it any attention or wasted time improving the decor. Chances are the white orb won’t be around by the time she gets serious about homemaking. She’s tried for two years but still hasn’t perfected the whole nest-building/laying/sitting thing. Maybe this year. Probably not.

Dumpling is an eager lad

January 29th, 2014     1 comment     permalink

Swimming cheek-to-cheek, Dumpling and Bacall date near the millpond

While it appears Dumpling is still infatuated with the lovely, yet noisy, Bacall (above), he keeps his options open by reminding the always flirtatious Mrs PomPom he hasn’t made any rock-solid commitments for this spring’s nesting season (below).

Buddy informs Dumpling he'd better watch his step with Mrs PomPomBuddy, however, sends a clear message via a nip on the neck that Mrs PomPom’s virtue is cherished by the Buda Bunch. Dumpling has not obtained permission to make goo-goo eyes at her. Dumpling has come a long way since cowering in the cemetery after he was dumped in early May (when I thought he was a she because he was so slight).

Fluffed instead of roughed up

January 21st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom is taking good care of her feathersYou’ve read about Mrs PomPom (left) having a rough summer, but she’s thoroughly enjoying the winter months. She’s actively flirting with most of the domestic drakes near the millpnod planning for a summer of nests. The drakes don’t pay much attention to her advances at this time of year, but in a couple of months she’ll have more attention than she wants.

Buda (below right) is still laying claim to her charms, but he allows other ducks in his Bunch to be near her. It’s a different story when Dumpling comes around. He’s usually chased away. Jiminy and Captain D. Hookt don’t attempt to get close to her since they are still considered outsiders by the two established domestic duck clans. I may not matter when breeding begins. We have several newly arrived hens available to amuse them.

Mrs PomPom is nicely feathered out after a rough summer Buda is looking terrific this winter

Mrs PomPom: Gracious Holiday Hostess

November 21st, 2013     0 comments     permalink

All preened and ready for the Holiday Glow festivities

Mrs PomPom has grown her crest for Holiday entertainingAfter a harrowing summer of too much attention from the drakes and several nest failures, Mrs PomPom has spent the last couple of months regrowing her assymetrical crest, that poofy topknot of feathers. She’s the only crested duck on the pond since the tragic death of the beloved AfroDuck in July, 2011.

She and Buda are still an item but Beauregard, Dexter, and Buddy remain available if whim overtakes her. With so many newly dumped domestic drakes paddling in the pond this year, she might find one sweeping her off her webbed feet as courting begins mid-winter.

Slightly off-center, Mrs PomPom like the casual, wind-blown styleIn the meantime, she’s busy with mingling with the wintering ducks. There are about 90 this year. Most spend their days near Main Street, but a couple of dozen prefer the north end of the pond to avoid crowds.

If you visit the pond during your Holiday excursions to downtown Brighton, she’ll be there to wish you a merry and a happy. As a sophisticated Holiday hostess, she’ll also accept any edible tidbit you might offer her. While mindful of her weight during the flurry of Holiday parties, she is too much of a lady to offend her guests by appearing ungracious.

Buddy: Commander of the Famished Flotilla

October 28th, 2013     6 comments     permalink

With his bill tip in the water but his nostrils above, Buddy presses on

Buddy leads the Buda Bunch to dinnerThe domestic ducks are happy to see anyone with food visit the pond on crisp days. They’ve been bred to loaf around barnyards and wait for farmers to bring them their vittles instead of foraging like the wild birds. Featherless humans can’t tolerate the chill in the air like the ducks can so there are less park visitors as cold weather settles in.

Buddy has been taking on some of the alpha duck responsibilities for The Buda Bunch lately. In these shots, Buddy is a duck on the mission of filling his insatiable appetite. Buda seems detached, jaded with duck life even though he’s still the acknowledged CEO by the other four members of his subflock. He’s been through the transitions from summer to winter several times and takes it all in stride.

Buddy cocks his head to see if this blogger's got the goods

Buddy has a habit of cocking his head to look at things (above and below). He’s a right-eyed drake. I’ve never seen him use his left eye in the same way. His bill cuts into his pudgy cheek in such a manner that he has a perpetual smile even when Buda restricts his access to Mrs PomPom during the mating season.

Buddy is a right-eyed drake

Buda moves the bunch

October 20th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

The Buda Bunch has moved to the Imagination Station

Mrs PomPom's nest has been abandonedThe Buda Bunch (top l-r: Buddy, Buda, Dexter, Mrs PomPom, Beauregard) has left their summer residence in the bay north of Brighton’s City Hall and bivouacked on the embankment near the Imagination Station. It happens every year. I assume it’s because the floating vegetation in the bay ceases growing when the water begins to cool. They are forced to interact more with the public to get their share of the vittles visitors bring.

Coincidently, Mrs PomPom left three eggs in her nest (right) on October 6. What happened to the other 13? Ducks roll eggs out of the nest when they realize they aren’t viable. They don’t predators attracted to the rotting aromas. One by one, eggs vanished. I think this is her fifth nest since arriving at the millpond two years ago. She’s yet to raise a duckling. Many breeds of farm ducks have lost their mothering abilities as a result of domestication. There’s a positive note: sitting on her nest has given her time to regrow her crest, the poof on her head. It was plucked severely by drakes during the mating season. Her bill has developed dark patches since she arrived. This is a normal aging process. SweetPea’s bill has turned dark gray in her years many years at the pond.

Mrs PomPom failed to have an entry in the annual Fertility Tournament, but she achieved a bit of fame this year. She laid the most eggs in one nest (16!) and was the last duck to nest in 2013 (mid-September). SweetPea laid more (at least 44 duds) and, being the Paris Hilton of the pond, might throw together a fifth nest before the pond freezes. She relishes media attention and plays me like a fiddle.

Mrs. PomPom’s still nesting

September 27th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Only six eggs remain, but Mrs PomPom sits responsibly

Mrs PomPom is weary but diligentShe may not look her best these days, but she’s really trying to be a good brooder. Will she succeed? Sadly, probably not, but she’s making every effort to stay the course.

She started with 16 eggs but has removed 10 which were probably not viable. White Crested ducks aren’t known to have good mothering skills and the crests they have are the result of cranial malformations which take a toll on duckling mortality.

If ducklings are born this late in the season, they also face death due to hypothermia because of chilly evening temperatures. The first two weeks are their most vulnerable period. We’ll see what happens but expect little from the hen that is doing all she can to succeed.

Fertility Tourney: Procrastinator’s Herculean Sprint

September 12th, 2013     1 comment     permalink

Mrs PomPom is sitting on 16 eggs. May the gods be with her.

It may be a futile attempt to stun the competition, but we must applaud Mrs PomPom’s athletic prowess. She’s atop 16 eggs under an old shoreline willow. If they all hatch (ETA: first week in October), she’ll be crowned Hen Of The Year in the 2013 Fertility Tournament. Will Fame find her? It’s unlikely. The nest is in plain sight where humans may interfere. They stole 7 of her 8 eggs in her previous attempt. She didn’t bother incubating the remaining one. Even with the odds against success, I’m cheering her on! I’d take great delight in bringing you their first family portrait. Stay tuned but flip through the other channels.

Mrs PomPom’s unlady-like appetite

July 15th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom sits as chicks from other hens search the ground for things to eat

I’m cutting her some slack because Mrs PomPom has been a diligent sitter for several weeks now. She will hatch her brood within a week or so if all goes well. But I gotta tell you, this past week she ran up to me, pushed several ducks out of her way, and devoured at least a half pound of duck chow in record time. Sitting hens often aren’t hungry and but it was as if she hadn’t eaten in days. On another evening, as she sat on her nest surrounded by nightshade vines, a couple of ducklings from another hen poked around her. She seemed alright with that and didn’t nip them (above).

A prospect for new life

June 23rd, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom began sitting on about 6 eggs two days ago

Mrs PomPom is nesting. It’s her first time this year although a few eggs have been found in her territory in irrational places. One nest had four eggs in it and she watched as a skunk rolled one of them back to its burrow. Three of us watched it happen along with her. Within 48 hours, all four eggs were gone. To protect her privacy, I won’t divulge where her nest is, but it’s not well hidden and might attract the attention of vandals. I hope not.

The annual millpond violence

April 28th, 2013     2 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom, one of two hens in the Buda Bunch

I’ve already talked about duck mating this spring. I’m bringing it up again because a group of adults were aghast as they watched four drakes mating with one female yesterday. They were sure one of the drakes (Dazzle) was attempting to kill the hen as he held her head underwater for an extended period. I didn’t record that incident because I was more interested in talking to the park visitors watching it. But I photographed a similar event on April 16 involving Mrs PomPom (above) and seven drakes.

Three drakes from the Dam Tribe visited the Buda Bunch to mate with Mrs PomPomMating is often a team sport at the millpond. Three drakes from the Dam Tribe swam to the Buda Bunch’s territory for an encounter with Mrs PomPom. While agitated by their arrival, Buda, who is larger than all of them, offered no protection from the rogues. In fact, he participated and also allowed Dexter and Buddy, members of his sub-flock, to join in. That’s especially interesting because Buda has pushed Buddy aside ever since the breeding season began to keep him away from both of the hens in his group. Angel is the other hen and has taken some of the heat off of Mrs PomPom who almost died from mating stress last year.

It appears, when ducks mate, the social order is totally abandoned for the duration of the event. It’s like white-tailed bucks during the rut where the males respond instinctually rather than sensibly. This encounter involved seven males but I’ve photographed up to eight in the past. Online sources say up to a dozen males might be involved. From what I’ve seen, any male spotting mating rushes to the scene to become involved either as a participant or spectator.

While Buda was agitated by the encounter, he stood by allowing it to happenEach of the drakes grabbed her pom pon while mating

Almost white-on-white

February 5th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Mrs PomPom is a White Crested Duck and Buda is a Pekin

After an inch of snow fell, the domestic ducks near Main Street were quite content to settle down for a nap on the cold concrete. Against the white background, you can see how the ducks aren’t pure white. They have a pale yellow tint. Also note how they fluff their feathers to trap air which provides extra insulation. All of these ducks look thinner in the summer months just because of the position their plumage. That’s true of most birds. Mrs PomPom and Buda are the subjects in the top photo, SweetPea is the ravishing snowbird in the lower one.

I’m frequently asked, “What do the ducks do in the winter?” The answer is shown here: They sit and wait for spring to arrive. They really have no choice. The domestic ducks cannot fly so they can’t migrate to warmer climates. On the coldest nights when the entire pond freezes over, they spend their time curled up with their legs and feet hidden in their feathers. If there is any open water, they still enjoy swimming no matter what the temperature. Their layer of fat must act like a wetsuit.

They also walk around looking for things to nibble and park visitors feed them enough to survive though the rations they bring aren’t always good for them. SweetPea has been at the Brighton millpond for 6-7 years. She’s surely eaten more bread than ducks should during her career as a park duck.

SweetPea is the only white duck with a dark bill on the mill pond.

Main Street’s Winter Ducks

January 17th, 2013     0 comments     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.

You can count on seeing this group of ducks in the evenings near Main Street during the winter months

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.

Mrs. PomPom: Morning shampoo and rinse

January 16th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

A few vigorous head dunks are a good way to wake up in the morning

The water hovers around freezing, but Mrs. PomPom takes it in strideMrs. PomPom is looking beautiful these days. After a summer spent harassed by the drakes, all of her feathers have grown back and she keeps them well tended. It’s difficult to believe that I recieved a call mid-summer that she was “near death” due to mating stress.

Yesterday’s frosty morning found her taking a vigorous bath. After a few head dunks (above) and a whole lot of shaking, fluffing, and splashing, she paddled with all her might Since ducks don't have towels, a few wing flaps have to doto raise herself out of the water so she could throw off the excess water with a series of wing flaps (left). Ducks don’t have towels so they rely on centrifugal force.

A layer of fat protects ducks from the cold. Their feathers provide further insulation, but I wonder how long it takes them to warm up after cold water touches their skin during a winter bath. I’ve never seen one shiver but I sometimes do just watching them.

Pond Politics: Who’s in charge here?

December 5th, 2012     0 comments     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).

Mrs PomPom update

November 14th, 2012     1 comment     permalink

I still cringe when I type her name. It’s too cute for a duck that’s had such a tough time at the Brighton millpond since her arrival in the spring of 2011. In April, she was badly wounded from mating stress. It sometimes kills hens incapable of enduring the advances of drakes. By June, she was in very rough shape, but then she nested for a month and had time to heal. She wasn’t successful in raising ducklings. Her infected right eye didn’t heal until late summer. I’m still not sure she can see out of it. She favors her left one. Her topknot (called a “crest” in the duck world) has grown back after being plucked by the drakes. It should reach full glory by the new year. Buda, the largest duck in the millpond and the alpha drake in the “Buda Bunch,” is her constant companion, but I haven’t seen him actively protect her from other drakes.

Stand by your duck

April 29th, 2012     2 comments     permalink

Tammy “Stand By Your Man” Wynette was right. It pays to be pair bonded. Most ducks pair up for the full breeding season but it isn’t a lifetime (8-12 years) commitment. Ducks that remained at the millpond all winter started to make goo-goo eyes are potential mates in late January. Frick (above) appears to be fine following her bizarre overturning this week. She waddled up to me in a spritely manner a few night afterward with her drake in tow. Within seconds of their arrival, another drake approached Frick, but her partner quickly chased the interloper 50 yards away.

Mrs PomPom (above), on the other hand, doesn’t have a drake protecting her. She endures the torment of many suitors who rip out feathers from her crest and have severely wounded her neck for the past three months. It’s shocking to compare these photos to her October, 2011 portrait. I’m particularly concerned about the unhealing scab above her right eye. The other night, her eye looked clouded, almost white. I thought she had gone blind, but I checked back later to discover that was her third eyelid (nictitating membrane) and it had retracted again. She’s dirty and not grooming herself well. I’m sure she doesn’t have the energy for self maintenance. I hope she survives. She’s a sad example of why domestic ducks should never be dumped into wild flocks. The problem is compounded since she doesn’t have a drake defending her when rogue drakes come calling.

Valiant (right), born last summer, is the exact opposite of Mrs. PomPom. She’s found a highly protective mate for the summer. Look at how beautiful she is; not a feather out of place, well fed, and healthy. I’m glad my prediction she was doomed last summer didn’t come true. I look forward to meeting her ducklings sometime this summer. Bet they’ll be beauties like her, and she’ll probably allow me to get close enough to photograph them.

Duck Genealogy

March 21st, 2012     0 comments     permalink

I began taking more than a passing interest in the millpond ducks when I started wearing my camera around my neck on my millpond walks. Before that, I never thought about them; they were “just ducks” that hung around. In fact, I assumed they were transient, arriving and departing the pond in a random fashion.

After almost three years of photographing them, I’ve discovered most of my thoughts about ducks were entirely wrong. They have individual histories, personalities, family ties, and dynamic social heirarchies, not to mention their harsh lives in an urban environment.

This young hen (top) is surely a member of last year’s Welcoming Committee although she doesn’t have unique markings to prove it. She’s a little more wary now that she’s paired up with a drake for the breeding season, but I suspect she’ll be bringing her ducklings to my feet sometime this summer to reenact her behaviors from last year. I’ve wondered if ducks can be identified by patterns on their bills once they reach adulthood. Having a way to identify individual ducks would be great. I’m grateful Duck 65 continues to wear her jewelry.

Hanging out with her brothers, the duck I named “Blonde Bombshell #2(right) is easy to identify. She’s currently hanging out with two drakes that are probably her two brothers. They look different than they did last fall, but their gray heads tell me they are the same ducks. They also feel very comfortable around humans as Thomas discovered during his winter visits. Note the gray heads on the ducks that were almost bill-to-nose with him in these pictures. I’m surprised this bombshell hasn’t paired up. She’s eight months old and mature enough to breed. Perhaps the brothers protect her from advances by the pond hooligans.

Mrs. PomPom has taken to her nest! Yesterday was the first day (right) so she might have hatchlings in 28 days. I’m not too hopeful. She’s a domestic bird dumped in the pond last July and hasn’t had an easy go of it, but at least her tight leg band is gone. While she’s adjusted to her life in the Buda Bunch, most domestic ducks aren’t great nesters or mothers and she’s picked a highly visible nesting site that will be disturbed by children visiting the park. Nesting might give her head wounds time to heal. They look gory right now but she seems healthy enough to survive them.

Spring flowers are a month early. These daffodils are blooming in the pleasant Roger Fendt Jr. Memorial Garden beside Brighton’s City Hall (below). Will they be blanketed in snow before they finish? We sometimes get heavy snows (a foot deep!) in April, but rains seem more likely this year. No promises; it’s Michigan.

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