I'd like to pause to discuss bird safety. Did you know that the bird population has dropped over 25% since 1970? Over a billion birds a year are killed by windows. Mark your windows. Make sure your local government buildings mark windows. Close curtains during the day if you cannot adequately mark windows. Legislation has been introduced this year H.R. 919, calls for all federal buildings to be bird safe. Please support this legislation. Click on the picture below for more information.
Below --A better picture of Harry eating with Bubba and Louise. Usually, Bubba doesn't allow this, but he makes exceptions for Harry at times. Harry has the slight white ring that does not complete his neck. Bubba has no ring. Harry is eyeing me. Bubba is pigging out.
Below is Louise's injured friend, or daughter. I could not get too close, but you can see the deep cut, how she holds the leg up. She hops on one leg. I suspect this is one of Louise's daughters from her successful nest two years ago. They all come back to visit. I will post a video of Louise's grandchildren. This injured duck showed up alone but flew away when I went outside. Later, she came back with the grand matriarch, Louse, who came to the patio window demanding corn. I fed both of them. The injured duck stayed far away, then came only when I was out of sight. I had to get shots through the window. Louise has come back intermittently with this duck for feedings. She once chased a male out of the yard. I helped her. She is very protective.
Below. Another look at Louise's friend/daughter eating. She lays on her belly to eat due to the injured leg.
Below. I believe this is Louise Jr. (one of her daughters from a successful nesting two years ago) and her babies. Louse, the proud grandmother, forced her to come show me the family. Louise must be so proud.
Below is Harry, Bubba's "drinking buddy."
Below is a nervous Louise, quickly eating, then escaping by way of front yard. She needs water to wash down corn.
This year, Bubba and Louise went through fall molts and lingered around the pond for a short while. When the nesting season concludes, hormones fall, attitudes and personalities are slightly altered. Bubba is not as obsessed with Louise, not as protective, not jealous of other males. He doesn’t become enraged if other drakes swim the periphery of the pond. Not many drakes swam around this fall and winter anyway, certainly not as many as last year. Last year I made the huge mistake of tossing corn in my yard to all ducks in attendance. Not a good idea. Ducks came. More ducks came. More ducks came. Flyovers stopped by. Canadian ducks came. Ducks everywhere, demanding food. So, this past fall, I did not toss corn. I gave some to Bubba and Louise and that was that. No free food. Move on. And they did.
One particular duck, a flyover, caught my attention. He was one of many who fly in –probably from Canada-- to graze the pond, pick up food for that all-important energy for migration. I’m the skyway gas station for some of the Canadian duck immigrants. Anyway, one of those immigrants one stood out. He was truly a beautiful drake. Canada would be proud! Bright green head, deep chestnut brown chest, shiny silver back. He was very large, or at least larger than most of the other drakes. But that’s not why the duck stood out.
This duck was crazy.
While most of the ducks, particularly flyovers, were only interested in food during pre-winter season, this one was interested in dominance. He nipped feathers off others, chased ducks around the pond, even attacked a few. It wasn’t mild aggression, but something else, something obsessive, manic, socially unacceptable. I noticed all the ducks, drakes and hens, avoided this drake, and he didn’t seem to desire socialization. At first, I just noticed his behavior and didn’t think much of it Until he became obsessed with my Louise. The attacks were sudden, intense, violent. He chased her, grabbed her flying feathers, tried to push her under water. I suspected it was rape. Ducks, single ones, are known to rape hens, just not in off season.
Now that sex has come up, I have to pause and insert trivia because this is fascinating. Did you know that ducks, along with geese and swans, are one of the birds that actually have penises? And the duck’s penis size beats swans and geese, measuring about 20 centimeters at full erection. Both the penis and vagina are shaped like corkscrews so “screw” in duck argot literally means screw. Also, some ducks, bachelor ducks who have no mates, become aggressive sexually, similar to dolphin behavior. Drakes sometimes swim around finding single hens who either chose not to nest or failed at nesting and gang rape the poor things. Some of the rapes can be so violent the hen drowns. Personally, I’ve lived around ducks a long time and have never witnessed a rape. I cannot imagine Bubba doing anything like that. This drake was the first strange duck I’ve observed, and I certainly could imagine him raping a hen.
Anyway, this one duck was a chronic problem with my couple. I decided to call him Donald. After observing his behavior, I concluded he wasn’t trying to rape Louise. He wanted her gone. Not raped, murdered. Unlike the summer when Bubba is extremely protective, this fall and early winter, Bubba remained almost indifferent. He would swim to her, but his protective instincts were not as strong. After several attacks, Louise eventually disappeared from my pond. Then Bubba left.
I assumed Donald was simply a strange, albeit transient, deviant. I figured he’d migrate someplace and never come back. Maybe he’d fly over Georgia during hunting season and end up stuffed and on a mantle. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care, I simply wanted him gone. But he didn’t go. Not really. He only disappeared like Bubba and Louise for the winter and returned in the spring. Unattached and just as aggressive.
I think I will talk about ducks first. Not only because blogs are basically yelling into echo chambers -- shouting our thoughts back to ourselves (well I am)-- and I would like shout about ducks a while, but also because my duck stories are important examples of my theme-- individualism exists in the bird world.
The above video are my friends. Bubba and Louise. They are visiting for a quick snack of cracked corn and water. They use me, I know this, but I still think they also like me.
These two ducks, husband and wife, wandered into my back yard about four years ago. They had been residents of the pond and saw me toss bread to a swan couple once. We have swans in our pond who successfully raise signets every spring and bring them to us for the usual praise every year. Swans are an invasive species, but they are great for keeping geese off the property. Nothing wrong with geese, and I have some geese stories, just that they poop regularly and turn the yard into their personal sewer system. Anyway, when swans arrive with their wee little grey puffs that are signets, usually four or five, I reward them with a little bit of whole wheat bread. I only toss a little to the adults, never ever the wee ones, as it’s very bad for them. Signets need that green stuff and bread fills the belly and can prevent proper nutrition. Never feed baby water fowl bread! Don’t feed adults either. I do it only once. I promise.
Anyway, I suspect the duck couple saw me feed the swans and came for their share. They walked onto the property, up to my patio window and stared at me late one afternoon after I arrived home. So of course, I went out to socialize. I didn’t give them bread but instead offered them a bit of cracked corn, which they loved. They came back and back and back. Louise would always waddle up to the patio door and quack at me. The corn was hard for them to swallow and needed to be flushed down with water, so I put a dog bowl filled with fresh water out by a small pile of corn. The squirrels would not bother them while they ate because everyone respects the duck. The ducks kind of rule the yard.
I named this couple Bubba and Louise, just because they looked like that. Louise had a sassy, bossy way about her. Bubba was completely devoted to Louise. Totally in love. He worshipped her. Still worships her. A caveat first before I talk about this duck couple and all the mallard articles and behaviorist theories. Bubba is not a pure Mallard. His coloring suggests slight flaws. He has no white ring around his neck. His chest is a whitish gray, not the chestnut brown of Drakes. His neck is slightly longer than the usual male mallard. And he is a pinch bigger. I suspect there was a black duck in his progeny. This could account for his rather unusual behavior. Louise, however, is a gorgeous pure-bred mallard hen. She is slightly larger than other hens I have seen. She has beautiful blue and white eye feathers on each side and a bright deep orange beak speckled with black. She is confident and used to be quite aggressive with other mallards who didn’t respect her territorial rights to my yard. However, as she has aged, she has become a bit more cautious and nervous. This could relate to some trauma she has experienced related to nesting as well as duck fights.
Let me step back and discuss Mallard molting and mating behavior.
Mallards have two molting periods. Summer molts that turns drakes brown like the hens. Fall molts that turn drakes radiant green, grey, chestnut brown and white once again. When they are radiant they are ready to mate. When they are in summer feathers, many fly off for the fall molt-- some place safe, like Canada. They leave the hen to manage the chicks. If the nesting fails, a drake will stay behind in order to mate and help with replacement nests. Eventually, however, leave the hen to manage alone. The hens usually migrate with the juveniles after the summer and teach them the ropes at a southern location. This can be way way South, where bullets fly, or just a wee bit south, where bullets still fly but not as much. It will be far enough to get the youngsters used to duck life elsewhere. The couples usually fly back after winter; the Drakes end up with their usual mating partner and the cycle begins again. This is considered monogamy but not in the same way us humans see monogamy. Not like the swans or geese or crows or blue jays who all stay with their partner throughout the mating season. Ducks mate with the same partner, but they don’t manage life together. Still, they are considered monogamous breeders.
Bubba and Louise do not seem to fit the duck mold. I don’t think Bubba migrates to Canada to molt. Yes, he molts and disappears, but I suspect he hides out around here, because he appears intermittently to check on Louise. After the summer molt, Bubba is of course that dull, boring brown and white. In the world of ducks, summer Drakes are ugly, which is why I think they disappear. They are vain. And the fall molt of course leads to loss of flying feathers, so maybe they are unsafe too. But I think it’s the vanity. Anyway, drakes are scarce in the summer. Except Bubba. He doesn’t mind being ugly and neither does Louise.
Basically, Bubba and Louise are truly monogamous, the way swans and geese and blue jays and crows and us people are monogamous. He sticks around. He helps her nest. He does not leave her.
I like to write about people, animals, dogs. I enjoy ideas, good books about ideas, funny books about ideas, funny people who have ideas, advocates for people who don't have voices to express their ideas, and animals who have ideas we can't understand.