Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Duckling Distraction

On Thursday while I was heading home, I happened to notice this female duck brooding her young. She looked like a mallard, although generally the females have at least some orange  on the outer edge of their bills. The all dark bill made me question myself. I wondered if this duck might belong to a different species.

In any case, the dark bill gave her a uniquely, beautiful look. I found her beauty and mystery mesmerizing, plus the ducklings crowding under her breast where also pretty hard to resist.

A few minutes earlier, one of the ducklings took a moment to peer out at the dangers of the world before turning tail and snuggling back under its mother.

My focus was broken by the splash of a duck diving below the surface.

There were three birds in the water between us and they were all diving below the surface.

Their splashes were quite distracting. I had seen the same three ducks a few minutes earlier. 

They looked like miniature mallards. Their diving behavior bewildered me because Mallards are classified as dabbling ducks, as opposed to a number of other species which are referred to as diving ducks. Later while doing research, I would learn there are a few references to Mallards diving. If you click on the previous link and look under the heading, Feeding Behavior, you will see one such reference.

Having never seen Mallards behave this way, I attempted to photograph their unusual behavior.

They dived with essentially the same speed as Western Grebes, quickly.

 This left me with numerous photos of water splashing up in the air.

 Occasionally, I actually caught a bit of a tail before they disappeared below the surface.

They would stay under water for 3 or 4 seconds before resurfacing. I never saw any food in their bills, so I am guessing they were swallowing something relatively small while still submerged.

When one swam in front of a full grown female Mallard, I realized this was an excellent opportunity for a comparison. The diving duck looked to be roughly the size of a Green-winged Teal, relative to the adult female.

When one of the young climbed totally out of the water I noticed the white sprouts of feathers on the left 'hip', in an area which will ultimately be covered by wing feathers, when the duck matures.

Relatively small wings might actually make it easier for young ducks to propel themselves underwater. However, since I could not see what they were doing below the surface I have no data to support this possibility. Still, I wonder if juvenile ducklings might be more inclined to dive due to a temporary optimal sizing of their wings during their development. 

Even though the young ducks were close to the size of Green-winged Teals, their bills where far more similar to Mallards than the thin little black beaks of Teals.

I found it hard to believe these young ducks were anything other than Mallards.

 I visually reviewed Sibley's drawings of all the dabbling and diving ducks.

I have found no other likely candidate species.

After a few minutes, the last of the three 'diving ducks' splashed its way out of sight.

Back on shore, one of the very young ducklings decided to leave the crowded basement and climb upstairs for a better view.

Later, I would learn there were seven other siblings huddled under the mother duck.

You can hardly blame the little duckling for wanting some fresh air and a more personal relationship with its mother.

Ultimately, the mother could only take so much movement and squirming. She headed for the water, giving the adventurous duckling a short ride to the shore.

Seeing the Mallard duckling on its mother's back was a first for me. It reminded me of a previous post regarding Pied-billed Grebes. It was titled, The Mother Ship.

Seeing the blue speculum on the mother duck removed any doubts that she was a Mallard. Click on the highlighted link to see examples of various identifying duck speculums.

 The young ducklings followed the mother to the water.

Looking at the spots on the young ducklings made me wonder if the whitish 'hip' feathers on the juvenile diving ducklings might be the remnant of the last yellow spot which we can see on these much younger birds.

The mysteries continued. The mother and her ducklings wandered close to a full-sized female Mallard. The large female appeared to nip at the smaller, black-billed mother duck. This seemed to prompt the mother to fly away.

The ducklings went on about their business of searching for food.

I can only assume the mother will be back. But I find myself bewildered by the size difference between the two 'mature' female mallards. There is far more going on in nature than I understand. Could it be that the smaller female is the result of a Mallard breeding with some smaller species of duck? or Could the size and bill color differences just be natural variation inside the Mallard species? 

Watching one of the young ducklings diving under the water sure seems like a fitting conclusion for this bewildering set of experiences.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature bewilders in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Is this plant native to the Pacific Northwest?


Scroll down for the answer


This is a plant native to our area. The beautiful dark berries are currently visible on local plants at many different locations.

FYI, There is new information posted in last week's 'Going Native' discussion. Feel free to scroll down and weigh in.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



  1. A mystery. Hope you'll keep us updated.

  2. I so enjoy your posts. Thank you so, so much!

  3. I've seen mallards dive as a bald eagle made passes at them, several times until the eagle gave up and flew away. I've also seen almost full grown canada geese dive completely underwater, for no apparent reason. Maybe it's practice.

  4. I am constantly in awe at your observational skills, as well as your photos! You continue to challenge us all to pay closer attention even to birds we tend to look at once and then ignore. Thanks for your ongoing efforts to get us all involved more in detailed behavioral observation, as well as asking questions about what we see. You are getting us to be more observant “bird watchers” instead of just “birders.”