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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Ducklings are Delightful

Ducklings are delightful! Their downy little feathers look more like the soft fur of a rabbit than the multi-functional avian feathers of an adult duck. 

Plus, their currently useless but incredibly quaint little nubbins of wings are adorable.

In addition to being cute ducklings have incredible potential! Unlike you or I, ducklings will one day fly if they survive. 

Mother hens are the key to duckling survival. They protect their young from the sun (there are three or four young ducklings in the shadow under this hen), from the cold, and from a wide variety of hungry creatures.

In addition, their mothers teach them where to find food. (It is also amazing how easily camouflaged they become in sun-dappled Pennywort.) The young will follow their mother anywhere, they come when she calls, and they learn from everything she does. 

Earlier this week, some friends and I watched this Mallard hen dip her head underwater...

...and then toss the water over her back. I am not sure if she was bathing to keep clean, cool, or both.

In the water surrounding her, many of her young ducklings repeated the exact same maneuver.

Afterward, she hauled out on a log to preen.

Her ducklings all did the same.

For a moment they almost lined up in perfect order, but soon they were twisting and turning in a variety of ways. To the mother hen, I suspect each duckling is unique. I wonder if their individual personalities play part in what enables some to survive when others do not.

I read on the Sea and Sage Audubon website that usually only two in twelve make it. Will the two who stayed closest to their mother be more likely to survive?

Earlier this week, I noticed this mother Wood Duck with her three young. They were also feeding in the Marsh Pennywort where the mix of shadows and vegetation made them less obvious.

Overhead this Bald Eagle, most likely from the Broadmoor pair, surveyed the world from the top of a Cottonwood tree. Ducklings might seem a bit small for an eagle's appetite but this time of year they are probably hundreds of ducklings along the shores of Union Bay. The odds seem to favor the predators.

The day before, I watched this adult raccoon coming down from its nest, in the broken top of another nearby Cottonwood tree.

One of the raccoon's young is peering out from the left side of the central branch. The adult's tail is hanging down into the top of the photo. Plus, I believe there is a second young raccoon's head partially visible, upside-down, on top of the first one. In any case, I have no doubt raccoons will also eat ducklings.

I once saw a Mallard leave her brood of ducklings so she could get closer to a raccoon and call out loudly. It seemed obvious to me that she was teaching her young that raccoons are dangerous.

As I watched, the female Wood Duck titled her head to keep a careful eye on the Bald Eagle. 

I have also heard a story of a Coyote, in virtually this exact spot, who grabbed a duck and threw it back to shore for its young to dispatch and eat.

I have seen an American Crow swoop down at a brood of ducklings and watched the mother hen take to the air. She flew directly at the crow in the successful defense of her young.

When this American Coot approached her family the female Wood Duck clearly objected.

Sadly, for the female Wood Duck, the Coot was not intimidated. The mother Hen turned and herded her young deeper into the Pennywort. The Coot hung around the edges but did not follow.

Next, a female Mallard came after the Wood Duck. The hen gave ground to the much larger Mallard but stopped in front of her young and flapped her wings. Successfully, using the strong motions to discourage the Mallard from coming closer. 

The turquoise, purple and white-edged speculum on her wings is not easily seen under normal circumstances.

A few moments, later the mother Wood Duck circled around the Mallard and the Coot and led her young to a less populated part of the bay.

Yesterday, at the same spot there was once again a Wood Duck hen with three young - presumably the same family.

Lurking onshore, directly behind them, was one of the local raccoons.

The mother Wood Duck did not panic and frantically herd her young ducklings away. Instead, she stayed calm, kept them close, and let them get a good look. Maybe most important was her modeling of an alert and careful response. Getting a good real-world education is just as important to ducklings as it is to humans. 

While writing this, my mind wandered. I wondered if in the distant past ducks and ducklings inspired humans to organize students by age and form classes for their education. Economically, one teacher for a large number of students certainly seems logical.

However, large broods work for ducks because the volume of their reproduction is high in both quantity and frequency. This enables ducks, particularly Mallards, to thrive in spite of the attrition. All other things being equal if only a few survive there are still plenty of ducks to maintain the population.

Humans have far fewer offspring and our young take much longer to mature. The survival, or even the thriving, of only a subset, is not acceptable. The No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 demonstrates this widely held belief.

One summer when I was young, I was lucky enough to have an Uncle who allowed me to spend the days with him at work, and in the evenings we went hunting and fishing. The lessons I learned had far more impact than anything I ever learned in a classroom. I remember my Aunt saying, "More is caught than taught". This experience makes me question whether organizing our children in indoor classrooms, by age, is really the optimal method of education. 

I have no doubt that the last year has been incredibly challenging for parents with children. On the other hand, I wonder if their children may one day realize that having this time with their parents was the peak of their childhood education.


This week's post is dedicated in memory of my Uncle, 

Ronald Gilbert.


Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


ps: By the way, if you have preschool children you may want to take a closer look at the Fiddleheads program at the Arboretum.

Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. 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. I hope 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. 

(By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

What species of duckling is in this photo? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


For the advanced students, the following three photos include Gadwall, Mallard, and Wood Duck ducklings. They are all native to Union Bay plus they are the three most common ducklings you are likely to see, in my opinion. Can you tell which is which?




The answer is:

A) = Wood Duck
B) = Mallard and
C) = Gadwall

Key differences include Mallard ducklings have more yellow around the face. The eyestripe on the Wood Duck duckling stops behind the eye.

Also, Mallard ducklings are the most common and most commonly seen in May and June. Wood Ducks are less common but primarily seen during the same time. Gadwalls are the least common and more likely to be seen in July. 

The preceding photo of the duckling in front of the Mallard hen was selected to test your skills of observation. The duckling is actually a Wood Duck duckling who wants nothing to do with the Mallard.


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. Google never responded to my requests for help with this issue. Now, in 2021,
 the service is being discontinued.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


A few extra photos that did not make it into the story: