Last evening, I watched a program on “Nature” about ducks. I’m sorry to say that I knew very little about these most common of birds. Common in the sense of widespread, but not in appearance or behavior. My favorite duck of all time is the Wood Duck. Here is a male:
Here are a male and female together:
I am happy to report that I once saw a little family of Wood Ducks at Wakulla Springs http://www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings/ in Florida. Wakulla Springs is 14 miles south of Tallahassee. They give boat tours down a small section of the Wakulla river and there is an amazing concentration of wildlife in this short section. So on one of these trips, I spotted a male Wood Duck leading his ducklings to the water. And if you looked hard enough, back in the dimness of the vegetation near the water’s edge, you could just spot the perfectly camoflaged female, remaining perfectly still.
One of the amazing facts about Wood Ducks is that they nest in trees. The day after the ducklings are hatched, the mother flies out of the tree and the ducklings follow…even though they can’t really fly. They are more or less in free fall until they hit the ground or the water. The ducklings have been known to fall as far as 290 feet without injury.
After watching the program, my second favorite duck is the Eider:
These ducks live in the Artic. Eiderdown (taken from the breast of the female Eider) is still used as filling for clothing and bedding, although it has largely been supplanted by feathers from other birds or by synthetic materials. The good news is that you don’t have to kill the duck to pluck the feathers. (Although I seriously doubt they will be happy with the process.)
The most amazing thing about Eiders is that they can fly up to 70 miles per hour in the air. I say “in the air”, because they also fly under water. In their natural habitats, Eiders dive to the sea floor to pick crabs and mollusks. They only have about a minute before they run out of air. So they pick the food from the sea floor and rise to the surface to eat it. The program Nature showed incredible footage of Eiders flying underwater. You cannot call what they do “swimming”. Swimming is what they do on the surface.
After watching this program, I decided to do a little research on duck hunting in Florida. I was hoping that my beloved Wood Ducks were protected. No such luck. In fact, from what I can tell, there are no protected species of ducks in Florida. And unlike deer, there is no prohibition against killing females (although that prohibition is occasionally lifted in the case of deer). This makes sense, since the female isn’t needed to feed the ducklings.
All male ducks perform very fascinating mating dances, while the females sit back and watch, and judge, and eventually choose. The program followed one unfortunate male duck who was rejected every time. You can only imagine what was going through this duck’s head. (“Why doesn’t anyone want me? What am I doing wrong?”) Finally he’s successful (“At last, my love has come along…”).
For some reason that wasn’t explained, there are normally more males than females, and male ducks will fight one another. That was remarkable footage too…a duck fight. It’s actually pretty brutal. In one scene, there were a large number of male ducks fighting one another. It was like a chain reaction. Once a pair began to fight, so did everyone else. It looked like a barroom brawl. There was a shocking ending to this.
The mating dance is usually this peaceful process, but after this fight, one of the males grabbed a nearby female and engaged in what the narrator delicately called “forcible copulation”. The narrator says that ducks are one of the only species which does this. The moral to this story is that if you’re a female duck and a fight breaks out, don’t stick around to watch.