Saturday, July 9, 2011

Learning About Ducks

Until this week, what I knew about ducks was pretty limited. In fact, I'd say the following pretty much sums up the majority of my prior knowledge:

  • Donald, Daisy, Daffy ... and Howard

  • Quack and AFLAC!

  • Feathers, bills and webbed feet

  • They're are several different varieties.

  • They fly and like water.

  • Ducklings are cute.

Yep. I think that about covers it. But, after Frank and Jemmy arrived in May, I quickly learned the differences between a mallard drake and a hen. Pretty easy to tell. The male is the "pretty" colored one. Females are a drab, mottled brown. Pretty easy indeed. Or so I thought.

I took that photo on May 11. During the next few weeks, I noticed that Frank's colors were becoming less vibrant and that his head was just growing darker. The change was so gradual that I didn't really notice it ... at first. Then I discovered, quite by accident, that Frank was missing a foot. That got me doing side-by-side comparisons of weeks' worth of photos.

Wait ... this isn't even the same duck! In fact, that duck looks suspiciously more like a female.

Except, it really IS the same duck! Notice the little flecks of green/purple on his head and neck. And, at the very end of his neck, see the white stripe? That is what remains of Frank's ultra identifiable feathers. He is now sporting eclipse plumage.

And when does this normally occur with mallard ducks? The process starts in mid- to late June -- after mating season. He won't get his "pretty boy" feathers back until fall when he'll once more begin wooing girls for the spring!

This might also explain what happened to Frank's foot. Because the process renders him at least temporarily flightless, he may not have been able to completely outrun a dog or cat. Or, being grounded, got himself trapped in a fence or pen.

Now this all makes sense! If you can't fly so good, the last thing you want to do is be really easy for a predator to spot. Thus, the drakes turn more of the drab brown colors. Even his bill, once kind of a vibrant yellow-green, is now like algae green. (Females always have a brown or orange bill so that's one way to tell the difference at this phase.)

Did you know this about ducks?! I sure didn't. And I'm geekily fascinated by it. Nature can be down right amazing.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

I had NO idea the male ducks lose their pretty coloring. I thought the males were always more colorful. Hmm.