Fakename’s Animal Planet: Ducks

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.

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7 responses to “Fakename’s Animal Planet: Ducks

  1. Wood ducks are are the top of my duck list too. Didn’t realize there were any in our area. I wonder kind of duck is served on menus, because I like duck!

  2. I like duck too, and I had to look up your question. It’s the Pekin duck. You should take that tour down the Wakulla.

  3. We saw a Least Bitten, back in 2006, when we took that boat trip at Wakulla Springs. Among several other birds I’m unlikely to see at home. But this little thing was marvelous. Our tour guide spotted it, gripping the reeds just above the waterline.

  4. i love your moral of the story.

  5. Not a duck fan! Had them on my previous property which was lake front. They are messy and aggressive/obnoxious. Even the Mallards are messy.

    But Wakulla is my favorite place in Florida since I was 12. Many many happy memories there. When I was younger ole Joe used to sun on the shore across from the diving platform. He caused me to pause a bit at first but then he had no interest in the cold spring water so I followed along with every one else. The platform used to have a third tier which was 30 feet above the spring. On a bright day you could see the bottom but not the water because it was so clear. So diving was a real adventure, you could never quite prepare for the moment of impact which took your breath away anyway. So getting back to the surface became a race for breath.

    And they used to serve ice cream sundaes in real glass sunday glasses.

    Later in my professional life I engineered many functions to Wakulla because it was affordable and because I loved it.

    Wakulla Springs is a gem and I hope it outlasts me.

  6. pt, I hear you about ducks–geese and chickens, ditto. But they are very beautiful in the wild, as in, not on your property. I’m pretty sure ole Joe had departed for the Happy Hunting Grounds by the time I moved here in late 2000. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Wakulla Springs, but I vividly remember that soda fountain in the Lodge. You could get a real chocolate soda (not sundae) there, and it’s still the only place I know of where they still sell them.

  7. I like ducks, I could watch them for a long time, they’re very entertaining. A while ago, my colleague at work came back from a lunch break in tears, she had seen a mother duck crossing a road with a trail of baby ducks following, a car had come along fast and run over the mother duck, didn’t stop or anything, and the baby ducks who had been following then just started walking round and round their squashed mother! Poor things, it must have been so confusing for them. My colleague stopped to help of course, she called the RSPCA, who came and took the ducklings away.

    That was a cheery story wasn’t it, sorry!

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