June 1st, 2013 permalink
I disparaged the Grande Dame of the Brighton millpond in a post yesterday. This is my public apology to her. I suggested her lack of mothering instincts and fascination with her suitors had kept her from her nest sitting duties. Since she hadn’t returned to the nest after 48 hours, I felt it safe to pay it a visit under the pine tree to see the rubble she left.
To my surprise only one egg was there. Originally, there were 13 and then only 11. That means either a vandal or predator stole the rest. Since no broken shells were in the vicinity, I suspect some damned forager or organic foodie decided to sample her culinary creations and dash her hopes for a family in 2013. At least this time, it wasn’t SweetPea’s fault for abandoning a nest. I hope she’ll accept my apology and be willing to accept duck chow from me in the future once she heals from the public humiliation I have unrightfully brought upon her.
May 31st, 2013 permalink
Oh, SweetPea, I thought you were on a roll. Your current nest was close to the pond and close to the drakes. I thought you’d sit on the eggs for a full 28 days. It looks like you’ve lost interest. Again. Darn it.
SweetPea was doing well until two days ago. Then she started to spend more time with the boys following her millpond baths. Maybe she isn’t laying fertile eggs, but I think it’s more a matter of her not having the mothering instincts needed to stick to the task when the Dam Tribe drakes endlessly charm and amuse her and “gentlemen callers” from The Buda Bunch find her fascinating.
May 22nd, 2013 permalink
On May 18th, I confirmed that SweetPea had 13 eggs in her nest under the canopy of spruce boughs. Last night, while she was taking a break from her nesting duties for a sunset swim with her suitors (left), I had a chance to photograph her nest again. She has removed two of her eggs.
Ducks can tell if their eggs are viable and remove ones that are no longer worth the nesting space. Last summer, a Main Street merchant saw her roll an egg into the middle of an alley and break it open. Presumably, this is done far from the nest so predators won’t follow the scent to the nest to destroy the eggs. Unlike most of SweetPea’s nests, I have some hope for this one. It’s close enough to the pond, partially shielded from park visitors, and close enough to her four admiring drakes that she just might decide to nest for the full 28 days. She’s doing fine so far, but she usually loses interest within 10-14 days and that’s ahead of us. Stay tuned.
May 18th, 2013 permalink
May 17: It’s confirmed. SweetPea has a new nest full of eggs, a baker’s dozen! I was able to coax her off the nest with a handful of duck chow last evening so I could count them. She’s dug a nice bowl into the dried needles under a spruce on the millpond lawn near Main Street, probably the best nest she’s built in the past three years but it’s in a vulnerable location where kids might destroy it. Will she sit long enough to hatch them? Probably not.
She’s had ten nests since mid-summer in 2010 and only hatched four ducklings because she gives up after 10-14 of the 28 days needed. Read all of the posts about her eventful life. SweetPea never returned to her first nest of the 2013 season after laying a dozen eggs in it. Apparently, her design sensitivity is just as pedestrian as the rest of my tempermental deduckorating critics. God knows I tried. She’s off to a good start this year with laying 25 eggs in two nests. Last summer, she laid 43 in five nests.
May 16th, 2013 permalink
SweetPea has abandoned her first clutch of a dozen eggs and has started her second nest under a large spruce near Main Street. At first I thought she was hiding from pesky males that want to mate with her, but she’s been there for three days now so I’m pretty sure eggs are under her.
She probably seeks to enter the Fertility Tournament. Last year, her five nests and 43 eggs didn’t qualify since she didn’t bother hatching any of them. Here’s hoping the Grande Dame of the millpond has more patience this year.
May 1st, 2013 permalink
Harumph. After I spent a good 20 minutes creating a trendy Hooverville for the beloved SweetPea employing GREEN principles (leaves and recycled objects), someone cleaned up the joint within 24 hours. They removed the two yard signs that provided her with a smidgeon of privacy and tidied up the dried leaves. They dismissed my years of experience in the design arena and imposed their own taste. How boarish. But I will trudge onward even though bruised by this assault on my design sensibilities. It’s a burden I must bear as a creative professional.
April 30th, 2013 permalink
While it’s probably futile based upon her past history, I decided to try my hand at sprucing up SweetPea’s Spartan nesting site. Not only does she make poor choices in where to build her nests, she also has limited talents in duckorating not to mention her lack of a credit card to accessorize it.
The goal of this duckorating project was to minimize interference from human passersby on a limited budget (mine). A charming Home Depot associate named Greg made several suggestions for the design conscious duck. I settled on a fashionable wire fence in glamorous black with fleurs-de-lis which are always in style. It set me back $7.97. SweetPea believes in recycling so I used two yard signs already on location to shield the south and west views. Sorta. Then I surrounded the nest on three sides with the elegant fence leaving adequate room for the pond’s Grande Dame to turn around when the mood suits her (right). Visually, the environment was still a bit stark. So I found dried oak leaves to give the place a more casual, lived-in look (top). Done!
The question is: will the veteran hen find my efforts attractive enough to sit in it for 28 days. She lounged on the lawn with her boyfriends showing no interest in the nest for a couple of hours Monday night. Perhaps she’s found it too messy. Before reduckorating, I found two of her 13 eggs broken and smelly. That’s not a good sign. It also means her typical diet of bread and Doritos from park visitors hasn’t provided enough nutrients to make her eggs strong enough to support her ample body. Last year’s success rate was zero with 43 eggs laid and none hatching because she abandoned each of her five nests. It’s a long shot, but if she hatches just one duckling, I’ll know my duckorating efforts played a part.
April 27th, 2013 permalink
The Brighton millpond ducks that interact with the public long enough learn how to deal with the chasing and other forms of harassment they get, but the Grande Dame of the pond is a master at it. She’s lead me on more wild goose (duck?) chases than any other duck in the pond.
For the past couple of weeks, SweetPea lead her steadfast retinue of four male suitors, the entire Dam Tribe, to a bay in the pond where the roots of trees are submerged (above). I was certain she was scouting a location for her first nest of the season. Last year, she nested in February so she’s running terribly late … for her. She’s on a unique schedule that doesn’t correspond with reality.
Last night, I found her suitors alone so I knew she had scooted away to a nest. The boys were near Main Street instead of the bay where I thought she’d be. Hmmm. It didn’t take me long to find the nest because SweetPea came flying out of it when I got near! Darned if she hasn’t laid a dozen eggs in one of the raised flower beds three feet from Main Street (below). They are right in plain sight where thousands of people will walk by them during her 28 days of sitting. It ain’t gonna happen. She’ll probably never spend any time incubating them because she’ll be constantly interrupted by passersby. Oh, SweetPea.
April 24th, 2013 permalink
The idea that ducks are just cute, comical birds is shattered during spring when park visitors witness particularly brutal matings. It happens daily. About 30% of all duck matings are forced. Before breeding starts, hens bond with drakes to gain protection from the advances of marauding males. Their bonded partners are often helpless, however, when groups of “rogue males” arrive. In a curious twist, bonded partners sometimes join in the frenzy. I’ve witnessed up to eight drakes attacking a hen with the encounter lasting up to ten minutes.
On March 28th, Buddy, a large Pekin male from The Buda Bunch, paid a visit to The Dam Tribe seeking the affections of SweetPea. Even with her retinue of four drakes nearby, she couldn’t fight off the ruthless advances (above right). She was left bloodied by his bites (above). The brutality of mating must have an evolutionary purpose but it seems counterproductive. The only explanation I can imagine is that hens that survive these encounters must be strong and healthy. The weak ones don’t survive. Last summer two millpond Mallard hens died from mating stress which is very common in the species.
But not all courting behaviors are vicious. Some is cute. Hens bob their heads and cluck at drakes they find attractive (left). Males often seem as if these shows of affection aren’t noticed, but once a pair bonds, the males follow the hens like puppy dogs. If given food, the males will usually stand guard while the female eats. That’s surely an evolutionary adaptation to guarantee the hen is well nourished to produce healthy offspring.
I bring mating stress up today because we’ve had at least four injured hens this year already. While I can’t be sure this is the cause of their injuries, it appears most likely. I’ll be reporting about them in the days ahead.
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.
February 5th, 2013 permalink
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.
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.
November 13th, 2012 permalink
Last week, SweetPea continued to do well at her nest. I hadn’t found her away from it so I couldn’t count the eggs. Trouble started to emerge on Sunday evening when the temperatures rebounded into the 60s. SweetPea was found at the pond. I visited the nest to count eggs and found one of them broken and empty (below left) near the nest’s entrance. Inside, only four of the original eleven eggs remained undamaged and broken shells were scattered about.
Several of the yucca leaves had egg smeared on them from SweetPea moving in and out of the plants. Either SweetPea is breaking them herself because of her size or she’s intentionally breaking ones that aren’t viable but not transporting them away from the nest to guard against predators. She just doesn’t know how to incubate eggs well. That skill was bred out of her ancestors. Too bad. Sunday, she spent more time at the pond. Her interest in nesting has faded. In a day or two, she’ll abandon the eggs if any remain by then.
November 6th, 2012 permalink
Her clutch is probably doomed, but SweetPea is hanging tough. She’s been at it since October 25th. Though diligent, she makes nightly pilgrimages to the pond to see her handsome beau, Desi (right). Soon, she’ll decide to not return to the eggs. At least that’s her typical M.O.
Not only is she a dedicated brooder. She’s willing to bite the hand that feeds her. I attempted to move the plastic bag above her (top) to provide a little more insulation from cold nights. Like a rattlesnake, her bill quickly darted toward my hand but the plastic saved my fingers. Then she puffed up and hissed to warn me I was not welcome in her boudoir.
October 30th, 2012 permalink
Leave it to SweetPea to miss the mark. Had she lead the parade an hour earlier, 2,000 Americans for Prosperity’s Freedom Rally participants would have grabbed their cell phones to photograph her performance instead of one lonely guy without enough sense to know when the party’s over.
As Brighton returned to normal Sunday afternoon, I noticed SweetPea bathing at the pond. I thought it was a good time to count eggs while she was distracted. She had covered them to keep them warm on this brisk day so I didn’t disturb them ( left). Within minutes, she was ready to waddle across Main Street to resume incubating (right). I played traffic cop.
Three of the four Dam Tribe drakes (Fred, Desi, and Duke respectively) tagged along.
Once across, they nibbled on Indian Corn kernels under the farmer’s roadside benches before giving me a photo opp to show the color of their webbed feet matched pumpkins for sale ( left). Then it dawned on SweetPea her eggs needed attention (right).
As SweetPea ducked — ha! — under yucca leaves beside the large tree, the boys moved away from the nest to (maybe) distract gawkers who might dine on a sitting duck or grab eggs (left). After she hunkered down to invisibity, the drakes stood guard for a few minutes (right) until I stopped traffic again to shepherd them back to the pond.
October 25th, 2012 permalink
It sounds heartless, but if you’d like to try cooking duck eggs, here’s your opportunity with my blessing. They’re more nutritious than chicken eggs. SweetPea’s latest venture in nesting, the fifth for 2012, will surely fail like her others this year. She’s started brooding, but the eggs have no chance of surviving the upcoming cold weather.
When I noticed she was missing from the pond, I went searching for her nest. I found her nestled in the yuccas near the entrance of Ciao Amici’s Restaurant … again (above). I’ve never disturbed a nesting hen before, but since this clutch is doomed, I nudged her to count eggs. She hauled off and bit me (hard!) as I attempted to move her aside. She held her ground (left) but I counted eleven eggs eventually (below).
Before they have time to hatch (28 days), she’ll be lured back to the pond by the Dam Tribe drakes. Nesting hens typically leave the nest to bathe daily, but she’ll dawdle long enough on some cold night that the eggs will freeze or she’ll willfully trade her mothering duties for the companionship of the drakes she finds so charming. If divine guidance encouraged her to go full term, the ducklings would surely die of hypothermia while still little tykes in late November. So bon appétit!
October 4th, 2012 permalink
Joyce, owner of Wildernest, told me SweetPea and her two suitors, Fred and Desi, were seen walking across Main Street. She’s the Grand Dame at the millpond and the ringleader of the Dam Tribe, a frequent subject of this blog. I knew what was up so I did a quick search and easily found her new nest. This is her fifth nest in 2012 (23 eggs!) and will surely fail again. It’s located where she nested twice in 2011 — directly in front of the entrance of Ciao Amici’s Restaurant in a clump of yucca plants. There’s one egg there now (below). She’ll lay others before beginning to incubate them.
She won’t succeed. She hasn’t been successful in more than two years. It’s so late in the season her eggs will surely freeze before they can hatch in 28 days. Besides, she can’t resist leaving the eggs to return to the drakes in her life.
But don’t be too harsh in judging her. She’s a dumped-at-the-pond farm duck bred to produce eggs and meat. Many generations ago, the mothering instincts were erased from the genes in her lineage. Maybe she’ll get lucky in 2013. Her last successful nesting was in 2010 when she hatched four ducklings. Three died quickly, but one lived until the next spring.
September 17th, 2012 permalink
It’s been a while since I posted anything about the Dam Tribe, the closest the Brighton millpond has to a royal family. Named after their almost constant proximity to the millpond dam, most park visitors know these ducks on sight since they are all bigger than the rest of the flock and seasoned beggars for food. All of these ducks shouldn’t be at the pond, but city residents would miss them if they left. They have all been dumped at the pond by their owners over the years. None can fly and endure winters sitting on the ice.
SweetPea (white with dark bill, a frequent subject on this blog) and MooseTracks (looks like the ice cream, the enforcer of Dam Tribe rules and seducer of random pond hens) have been at the pond for somewhere between 5-8 years, the stories vary depending upon who tells them. Duke, the dark duck on the right, is of undetermined vintage (Khaki Campbell and Mallard?) and the most passive of the bunch. He stays in the background. All three of those ducks are “meat ducks,” domestic stock raised for the platter rather than their eggs.
The two “White and Fawn Indian Runners” (Desi and Fred) were dumped at the pond in May, 2011 and have weaseled their way into the good graces of MooseTracks and Duke because of their … um … affection for SweetPea, the only female in the group. Indian Runners are egg layers, but these two are worthless in that regard because they are males. That’s probably why they were discarded at the pond. They are handsome and beautifully marked.
In the Spring of 2011, the Dam Tribe had eight members. Only three of them are still alive, but one of them lives on at Facebook: AfroDuck! People still ask me if I’ve seen him a year after he was last seen, probably a victim of a turtle. But we still have a duck with a crest (poof of feathers on the head) in The Buda Bunch north of city hall. Her name is Mrs. PomPom and she’s had a tough year.
June 30th, 2012 permalink
SweetPea gave nesting her full attention for 20 of the 28 days needed. The lure of the boys in the Dam Tribe brought her back (below l-r: Duke, Fred, Desi, MooseTracks). I found her untended egg on June 25th (bottom center) and hoped she was taking a quick break to bathe. She never went back. The next day, the egg had vanished.
When I reported she was nesting again, I didn’t reveal the exact location. She isn’t fond of paparrazi. Now that the nest is history, I’ll give you the full scoop. From a hundred feet away, I saw her enter the garden bed behind CW Interiors (right). Nesting surrounded by pink flowers seemed perfect for her! I walked up, ran my hand through the knee-high plants, but no SweetPea. Huh? That’s odd …
Then I looked in the 12″ wide space between the two buildings. There she was 6′ back (below left), a terrible location! Had a predator blocked the opening, she was a goner — the space was too narrow to fight and the back wall blocked an alternate escape route. That crevice also faces due south. With no circulating air, mid-day summer sun could fry her eggs.
Upon finding the nest, I called the store. Linda, the store owner, found a broken egg in the middle of the alley, some 20′ from the nest shortly after SweetPea began nesting. Later, she saw SweetPea with another egg in the alley. She was breaking it. A bank teller in town told me hens know when eggs are not viable. A growing embryo makes the egg warm to the touch, I suppose. Hens take them some distance away so predators aren’t attracted to the nest.
* SweetPea has great taste. CW Interiors is filled with beautiful home and office furnishings. Linda could have offered SweetPea help with her nest decor if she had asked. While the duck assembled a sophisticated color scheme of earth tones, she went a tad overboard with textures. A silk pillow or two would have enhanced her stab at a comfy country motif. Drapes would have softened the cinderblock walls.
June 10th, 2012 permalink
One of the AWOL ducks has surfaced. It’s the millpond matron, SweetPea, who’s been missing for about five days. I found her beside the pond after her bath. She was preening her breast feathers (above left), a sure sign she’s nesting again. Third time’s a charm, right? Let’s hope so, but don’t expect much from the old girl.
She hasn’t sat on eggs for the full 28 days they need since 2010. Her first two attempts this year (February and April for a total of 18 eggs) were failures. She prefers being with her retinue of 4-5 drakes and shows increasing fondness for the two fawn-and-white Indian Runners (above center). She was ravenously hungry and stared at me until I opened my backpack (above right).
After a hearty duck chow dinner at sunset, she got that faraway look in her eye and headed for the street (left). Clayton, a frequent millpond visitor, and I helped her waddle across 5 lanes while playing crossing guards (below left). Safe on the other side, she weaved through parked and moving vehicles in a parking lot heading for the alley (below right).
The drakes stopped following her at about the halfway point but watched her continue on alone (right). Following her at a distance , Clayton and I watched her enter her nest for the night shift. Where is it, you ask? To avoid disturbing the fragile attention span of this hen, I won’t reveal it until I’m sure she’s moved on with her life. But I’ll tell you it’s a tawdry setting with a terrible view. If Van Gogh was alive today, he wouldn’t rent it.
April 14th, 2012 permalink
“Carnage on Main Street” was my first title for this post, but after my “dead cats” headline this week, I decided to decrease the sensationalism before I start losing readers.
SweetPea has had another tragedy. I was about to post the photo of SweetPea’s carefully arranged nest of a dozen eggs (top) the day after I shot it but checked back and discovered all was lost (right). The unknown assailant was likely a raccoon or skunk instead of one from the human species. Each egg was cracked open and licked clean. Most humans wouldn’t do that right there under the protective shrub.
As written at the beginning of SweetPea’s latest nesting adventure, there were never high hopes for success. She is incapable of the long commitment needed to incubate eggs. The eggs were also untended on cold nights before her brooding was to start. The nest was next to the entrance of Beverly Rae’s women’s apparel shop on Main Street. It was well protected. I thought she might succeed. Since she didn’t have to cross the street to reach it (like she did for her last three nests) was also an advantage. It would save many squealing brakes as Brighton shoppers and diners swerved to avoid her.
While being consoled by the members of her Dam Tribe (left), she’s surely planning her next clutch before summer arrives. Three’s a charm, right? Last year, her 20 eggs in three nests brought no joy. Having started in February this year, she’s already laid 18 eggs. While it would be a treat to see her babes in the millpond, I’m a realist. This might be a banner year for failure topping 2011.