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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mallard Melee

I was not aware they'd arrived, so can only guess in what order they came. It seems logical that the pair arrived together, having likely joined up last fall and continuing as a couple into this spring. On this particular day, another male happened along and had only one thing on his mind - to win over the female for his own. That may (or may not...) have happened, had he only her to convince. As it was, there was the other guy to contend with.
Dressed as they were in their brilliant mating plumage, the males stood out with glossy green heads and upper necks. These were separated from their light grey breasts and rusty colored backs by white rings resembling collars. The bottom edge of each of their wings held a bright blue rectangle and a white bar at the point where they met the body; each had the yellowish green bill and two distinct black feathers that curve back, giving them their characteristic curly tails.
As I peered out from the window above, I could hear the frantic splashing - their interaction was intense, but short-lived.
During the fray the female, much less colorful and smaller than the drakes, was nonchalant, casually swimming about out of their way and grooming herself... such a lady. The hen’s back and breast is a darker brown than the drake’s, and she does not have the same distinct curly tail. She has an orange bill, occasionally marked with black spots, orange legs and feet, and the same distinguishing blue rectangle and white bar on each wing.
The female probably has searched for, and staked out, a territory for her nest; the drake just followed along, as any good spouse might when it comes to housekeeping. Females typically try to locate a territory close to where they themselves were hatched, often returning to the same site year after year. Since we've seen at least one pair each year visit our small pond, their presence does not surprise me. The nesting site is sometimes close to a source of water but more often a small distance away in an area lined with bits of rushes, grass, weeds, and other organic material. The nest, built solely by the female, is usually somewhere with good cover such as thick grass or shrubs or in the hollow of a tree up to 12.2 m (40 ft.) off the ground. That would certainly explain the One Giant Leap we witnessed near the Yakima River some years back. These do not seem to nest near our pond, as we keep the area around it fairly cleared. With a multitude of ponds, drainage ditches, and thick brush in our neighborhood, they have a choice of good nesting spots. Perhaps in future years, when the plantings around our newly renovated pond mature, they'll nest closer by.
Ducks drop by here simply to dabble about for worms, tadpoles, small frogs, insects, and freshwater snails found in muddy areas along the edge. They scrounge in deeper water to feed from the mud below, using their bill as a very efficient filtration system similar to that of the baleen whale. In other areas they may find small fish, mollusks and fish eggs. Primarily vegetarians, Mallards feed day and night on leaves, seeds, berries, corn, bulrushes, wild rice, wheat, primrose, willows, and seeds of water elm, oak, hackberry.

In the melee I witnessed, one male finally had had enough and exited quickly. Resting at the edge of the pond, he preened, flapped, and re-gained his composure. The other male had allowed him to leave, but also left the water and began to "wander" in his direction. Soundly defeated, the other flew off. I have no way of knowing, but I think the one left was the original mate.
The battle over, the female, still unruffled by the whole affair (or, not-to-be affair?) came out of the pond and waddled up the small hill to preen and rest, her loyal drake following docilely behind.
Perhaps in the depths of his little duck brain he knows that in the next month he will begin to lose his colorful feathers and be unable to fly until his new feathers have grown in. Until breeding season returns in August, he will be a drab brown and more closely resemble her. He will likely remain in their nesting territory for the first ten days or so that she incubates the eggs, and then abandon her.  
Most Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) drakes are a fickle sort - best they strut their vanity while they can.

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this so much! I grew up next to a small man-made lake in a Minneapolis suburb and spent endless hours watching mallards, muskrats, squirrels, salamanders, frogs, toads, etc, down at the lake. I have witnessed many brief drake fights. You got some great photos! :)

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  2. wow!! that was wonderful to be able to witness all this...with you!!!
    your pictures are great! the male mallards are beautiful with their BRIGHT green heads.

    like you...i could just sit...and watch...and be amazed at all the creatures and critters...big and small...that wander through...or stick around for a while!

    so beautiful....i love it!! :]

    OH...and your header flower picture is gorgeous!!

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  3. Rita:I learn something new each day - did not know muskrats lived in suburbs! Those drake "spats" are interesting & I've often thought that human differences should be more like theirs - over quickly with very few casualties. Puts more meaning into getting your "feathers ruffled" doesn't it?
    Laura: I indeed DO know that you like to observe all kinds of critters & that you put special value on each & every one. The header picture is of grape hyacinths in my yard - not natives, but lovely just the same!

    Once again, THANKS for stopping by AND taking the time to comment.

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  4. There may not be any left now after over 50 years. But I know they have trouble now and again with deer, bear, raccoons, skunks, etc, in town. They want to follow the river and we have taken away so much of their habitat.

    The worst thing I ever saw with Mallards was a gang of 4-5 young drakes who picked a young unprotected female to gang rape. They just wouldn't leave her alone no matter where she tried to fly to, never gave her time to rest or eat, just took turns pinning her down by the neck. I tried to chase them away, but they'd come right back. If I could have caught her I would have kept her safe for a few days and maybe they would have lost interest. She wouldn't leave the area because her drive to nest where she had hatched was too strong. I found her poor mangled body a few days later. They never gave her time to preen or clean herself up and they'd pinned her down till her neck bled. Sometimes animals are just as bad as humans. Sad, but true. :(

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  5. Rita: what you say is true. Many wild animals become "problems" now because so many humans think only of their own specie's needs, with their resulting actions causing all kinds of problems for the other species on this planet. Habitas shrink or are destroyed, predators are removed, and food supplies severely altered to the point where other animals do whatever they can just to survive. The plus side of this is that more and more people are seeing & recognizing this and improvements and strides forward are being made on many fronts. Part of the reason I have this blog is to share my views of the tremendous variety and wonder of ALL life on earth and that their creation was no accident. Each one has a purpose in being, even if we may not know what that is. Once we learn and have greater understanding about something, then we care more about it - and what happens to it. Hopefully, I contribute in some small way to this process.

    Yes, animals can definitely be a "bad" as humans in ways such as you described and it is horrible to witness something such as you did. In the larger picture, however, I still think that we humans out-do most of the other species in terms of large-scale attacking, maiming, & killing. It's ironic, isn't it, in that we supposedly have the better developed brains? Seems we could figure out some better ways to settle our differences. As Red Green likes to say: "We're all in this together."

    Have a great day & thanks for your perspective!

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