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.
However, fortunately with spring came hormones and Bubba was back to his protective, feisty self. He wasn’t taking any crap from some psychopathic duck. Also, this year Bubba and Louise were not alone. They were now followed by a drake and hen who both behaved like a couple but looked like Bubba and Louise’s offspring. The drake actually looked exactly like Bubba, only slightly larger and not as confident. I could barely approach him before he flew off. The hen had a darker head, indicating hybrid blood. Were these children who hung out with their parents after the usual grooming period, similar to our adult human children who return after college to lie around the house? And did Bubba bring them back to help with the crazy duck? Or was this a coincidence? I have no idea, but I called the new couple Bubba Junior and Louise Junior.
Before we get to the war, let me back up and describe duck fights. Ducks don’t peck each other and yack when they battle. When they truly fight, they mean business. If a duck can get hold of the neck of the opponent and push him under water, he wins. And the other duck is dead. But it’s harder than it sounds because the desperate duck can hold his breath. In fact, that his how a duck’s mate—the drake holds the hen’s head under water while he mounts her. I am not sure how long a duck can hold its breath, but I’ve seen the mating rituals last quite a few seconds.
When Donald appeared again, he was just as intent on killing Louise. And it started! Bubba chased Donald out of the pond and Donald came back. He chased him again. Again, Donald flew back. Bubba Junior assisted Bubba chase Donald out of the pond. Donald few away. Donald flew back. Donald chased Louise. Bubba and Bubba Junior chased Donald. And on and on and on. Finally, Bubba caught Donald and held his head underwater. He almost succeeded in killing him, but he got loose and flew away. Then came back.
The climactic battle occurred when Donald almost killed Louise. He flew into the pond fast, catching Bubba off guard, swam after Louise, grabbed her before she could fly away. Right there, In the middle of the pond, he shoved her head under water. Bubba was there right away. Then Bubba Junior arrived. Father and son both attacked Donald, pecking him, grabbing his feathers, trying to jam his head underwater. But the crazy duck was latched on to Louise and wouldn’t let go. It was a loud, wet, splashing, quacking mess in the middle of the pond. I honestly thought Louise was going to die. I pulled out my canoe and jumped inside, but as soon as Donald saw me, he let go and flew off, Bubba and Bubba Junior right behind him. Amazingly Louise survived and flew off in the opposite direction.
For two weeks, Bubba and Louise stayed away. Bubba Junior showed up with his hen, but not with Bubba or Louise. A few other drakes came around. If all the drakes looked alike and I wanted to find Donald, I’d walk toward the canoe. Without fail, one drake would always fly away. That would be Donald.
Bubba and Louise finally returned, though. And the war continued. But Bubba had back up beyond his son. Harry was back. Harry is Bubba’s best friend.
Yes, Bubba has a “drinking buddy.” Bubba hangs out with Harry when Louise is off nesting. When Louise returns, Harry politely flies away. I believe Harry used to have a mate who may have been killed during nesting season. He never found another mate so he hangs out with Bubba. I can tell the difference between him and other drakes only when he’s in his mating clothes. Unlike other drakes, such as Donald, Harry doesn’t have pure silver back feathers. His back has bits of silver and blotches of brown, as if he were silver but rolled in brown dirt. Also, Harry only has only half of the white neck ring. Anyway, Harry was now accompanying Bubba. If Donald would aggressively enter the pond, Harry would team up with Bubba, sometimes with Bubba Junior as well.
Occasionally, Louise would return to my yard alone. She was cautious, shy, sometimes lying on her belly and leaning way down in the grass with her head extended--a position of fear, indicating a predator could be near. The predator she feared was not a fox, hawk, or mink. Her greatest fear now was a crazy duck. She even left through the front yard to avoid the pond just in case Donald was hiding out in the edge of the pond under low branches.
This strange fussing continued for about a month, then, after many altercations with Bubba, Bubba’s son, and Harry, Donald gave up and flew away. I suspect he flew off for the summer molt. I expect him to return.
So far, I’ve not seen chicks and I suspect Louise has had another bad nesting season. She’s visited a few times alone, this time with an injured hen friend.
I’ve never read about psychopathic ducks. I’ve lived on the pond 24 years and this is the first time I’ve witnessed a drake trying to kill another drake’s hen. What was particularly disturbing was the lack of provocation. There had to be a reason for this aggression, but I doubt I will ever figure it out. It will remain a duck mystery.
I’ve also never read anything about duck friendships and familial loyalty. Bubba Junior and Harry came back to help Bubba and Louise. They helped Bubba protect Louise. Their loyalty to Bubba was obvious.
These ducks, particularly the couple I’ve been following for years, are not textbook ducks. The behaviors I’ve observed are familiar because they look very much like human behavior. Devotion, loyalty, and, yes, social deviancy and cruelty. Wars develop for complicated reasons and friends help out during troubled times.
Ducks are individuals.
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.