Posted tagged ‘mallards’

NYC Mallards Court on Halloween

November 2, 2011

On Halloween morning, a flock of about fifteen mallards swam about on Morningside Park’s small pond.

Watching the birds, I realize that I’ve been a little confused about molting and plumage. I understand that differences in plumage may be attributed to the fact that some of our ducks are permanent residents, while others are migrants, just passing through. Still, I could have sworn that last month, the males on the pond  were in full eclipse plumage, looking almost like females with most of their head color gone.  Yet look at this handsome fellow with his head glowing green and shiny.  Is he already growing back his breeding plumage?  Or is he heading into eclipse?

To my surprise, this duck and his female companion proceeded to engage in some synchronized head-bobbing. This behavior, which ornithologists call “pumping,” is part of an elaborate duck courtship ritual, sometimes leading to copulation. In fact,  on several occasions in spring, I’ve seen mallards copulate right here on the pond, and it’s a somewhat disturbing business. So I watched these two with interest. (Click the arrow to watch my video.)

A visit to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s The Birds of North America clarifies all things mallard. Apparently, male mallards quickly move out of their drab, late-summer eclipse plumage. So this male is on his way back to his classic breeding appearance. And new pairs start to form as early as September with courtship behavior occurring throughout the winter.   Since the ducks are infertile in the fall, they may copulate freely without the risk of eggs being laid in the cold season.

Interesting. Very interesting.

Fresh Ducklings and Growing Goslings in Morningside Park

June 3, 2010

On the move

Nine fresh-hatched ducklings, the adorable consequences of April’s disturbing displays of duck sexuality, are eagerly exploring the little pond  in Morningside Park.

Turtles, too, are out in force in today’s heat, basking and swimming.

Soaking up the sun

Lolling in the water

These are red-eared sliders, a non-native species that used to be sold for a dime or a quarter in Woolworth’s.  Who knew, in those benighted days, that the adorable inch-long hatchlings could live up to 35 years and grow to more than a foot in length?

So what happened when they outgrew the ubiquitous little plastic bowls with the miniature palm tree in the middle? Well, many were dumped in park ponds all over the city, where their descendants are thriving.

Morningside Pond is home to several turtle species, including flesh-eating snapping turtles. Here’s hoping the snappers steer clear of the succulent little morsels that make up the duckling flotilla.

The duck babies are truly tiny.  Compare this little fellow to a floating pigeon feather:

or these siblings to blades of grass:

But they’ll grow swiftly. Just a few weeks ago, the gosling quartet looked very much like the duckling nonet:

First day goslings

Then they grew just a little

until they started losing their yellow baby markings

With wings like flippers, she's going nowhere fast

and became today’s ungainly prehistoric beasties

Gawky pre-teen

They appear to be starting to molt, losing their downy fluff in preparation for actual feathers. I was surprised to see the neon-bright, sky-blue patch on their still-ineffectual wings. You can just make it out in the photos.

The awkward age

The goslings’ necks are starting to lengthen, too. Maybe one day, they’ll be worthy of Bird Neck Appreciation Day, just like their parents.

No gosling strays far from this beady eye


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