Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Duck Drama

This spring has been a dramatic one for the resident mallards in our neighbor's pond. Each year a pair scouts the pond in early nesting season, and invariably we see the ducklings for a day or two before they graduate to wilder surroundings than a cultivated backyard pond. This year, however, two drakes have been contending for the affections of one female, and one of the drakes has been the clear victor - that is, he has retained his tail feathers while the other has been ceremoniously unmanned. For several days he sulked around our patio (not too wounded to ignore the cracked corn), and even now he occasionally flits over to the pond until he is chased away by the mated mallard. The female, in the meantime, ignores them both for the most part. There has been a second female visiting on occasion and while the two gals will get together for a good gossip, only one stays nearby.

Then, just a few days ago, the ducklings arrived. Always adorable, these small balls of fluff were not at all tentative in trying out the water this year, and when they tired they curled up under mom's feathers to stay warm and snuggle. Their early lives were not without drama as well, however, as one of the drakes started to chase the brooding female all around the pond. She was frantic - unwilling to fly and leave her babies, she kept circling around her brood even while the male was quite literally on her tail. Fortunately, our neighbor intervened and chased away the drake several times, and eventually he got the idea that he wasn't welcome for the time being.

Now the ducklings have moved on, but one adult pair is still visiting occasionally, including raiding our cracked corn dishes - to which they are most welcome. My best thought is that it is likely the second female and the earlier rejected drake - now graciously regrowing his tail feathers, which are coming in but notably shorter than average. Perhaps later this spring we'll have visits from another young brood, but hopefully without as much drama.

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