Zoot has found Mr. Right (Now)

April 16th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Ducks don’t mate for life. Normally they bond during January-March then mate in April-July for May-August hatchings. While the hen devotes her time to sitting on eggs, the drake finds it dull to watch her. Exasperated, he finally excuses himself so he may seek other hens requiring his stud services whether they find him charming or not.

Zoot and her nameless bonded Mallard drake relax after a exhausting day of courtship on the Brighton millpond

Zoot (above right) either hatched or was brought to the pond last spring as a small duckling. I found her with Sugar Raye, but she was much larger and differently marked than Sugar’s other ducklings, I’ve wondered if she was dumped at the pond along with two other ducklings that are also black with white bibs. Zoot has the most brightly colored orange and black feet of the trio of hens.

For more than two months, Zoot has been wooing this particular Mallard drake seen stretching his wing after an exhausting day of courtship (above). Girls are the aggressors in the duck world for at least the early stages of pair bonding. Testosterone in the drakes doesn’t kick in until March. It acts like four shots of tequila in a country western bar – all hens suddenly become ravishing beauties as if by magic.

Because this is her first year as a mature hen, Zoot may not nest at all. But she’ll will probably nest later this spring. She’s a domestic hybrid duck so she may not care for her eggs. Many domestic breeds and hybrids have lost their mothering instincts from decades or eons of selective breeding by farmers. Pekins, the most popular domestic in the USA duck meat market, are notoriously poor brooders. In the six years I’ve been reporting from the millpond, I’ve seen many nesting attempts but only two Pekin hatchings for a total of 12 ducklings. Only one survived through its first two weeks but died the following May from mating stress.

The millpond’s biggest additions

October 9th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Sparkle had a mottled white chest and is a big duckSparkle (right), Shine, and Zoot were all hatched this year, but the more I see of them, the more I wonder if they were dumped at the pond as very young ducklings that quickly found foster hens who let them join their broods. They have some of the characteristics of Black Swedish ducks yet none of the domestic ducks on the pond are that breed.

The trio are twice the size of the Mallards and their conformation is quite different. They are full-sized adults now yet they will add a pound or two in the months ahead. Sparkle has a hint of iridescent green on its head which might indicate it’s a drake, but I can’t be sure until they get a little older.

All three of these birds are gregarious and will gladly eat out of your hand this fall and winter if they aren’t roaming the pond looking for things to eat.

CSI: Zoot isn’t Sugar Raye’s duckling

August 28th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Sparkle (left) and Shine squawking on the sidewalk, their favorite activity

Zoot has the most distinctive feet on the millpondFrom the get-go, Sugar Raye’s family of ducklings had two that looked different from her other four. One of the pair perished days after hatching but the other not only flourished, it soon towered above the other in her brood.

Ducklings within the same brood can have different fathers so I assumed the dark oddball (now officially christened Zoot) was sired by either Dazzle or his son, Razzle. By the time it reached a month old, however, I noticed its unusual feet. Blotchy feet are a distinctive trait for Acona ducks and only one duck on the millpond has a known Acona lineage, the cad named Parfait who was the 2013 offspring of the late, great MooseTracks, an Acona drake who became a coyote meal in the winter of 2014.

Ain’t I smart figuring this all out? Oh, wait a minute. As the weeks passed, Sugar Raye’s blotchy-footed duckling kept growing! How could this be since both Sugar Raye and Parfait are on the small side? On August 16, Zoot was on the millpond sidewalk near Sparkle and Shine (top photo), Franny’s two abandoned ducklings who raised themselves. All three of the birds have similar profiles with green bills and white bibs. Although Zoot’s feet are the most unusual, the other two have slight orange patches on their webbings.

Zoot is slightly larger than the other two birds Sparkle has the most mottling on his/her chest Shine has a very prim white bib

There’s a chance Zoot was one of Franny’s lost ducklings. She managed to misplace 9 of her 11 within days of their hatching on June 14. That makes him two weeks younger than Sparkle and Shine yet he’s the largest. I think it’s more likely Franny dropped an early egg or two into Sugar Raye’s nest. Domestic ducks sometimes do that. Franny’s mothering instincts left her family tree several branches ago. The sex of these three ducks is still unknown but both Zoot and Sparkle sound like females. Hens have louder quacks than drakes. Both of these ducks are incessantly noisy, loud, and amusing to watch.

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