Posted tagged ‘molting mallards’

Summer Saturday in Morningside Park

July 15, 2013

Morningside Park is lush and full of animal and human activity these days.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

On Saturday, a small brigade of dedicated kids and volunteers cleaned the park and the pond.

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A turtle bobbed persistently for an elusive bite of apple.

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Scores of turtles swam and basked near the pond’s mallard ducks.

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The mallards are molting, which is why it looks at first glance as if there are nothing but females on the pond. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that some green is still visible on the heads of the birds in the photos, indicating that they are, in fact, males.  The bright yellow of the bills is also a good marker; the bills of females are orange and brown. After breeding season, mallards molt and become temporarily flightless.  The males lose their distinctive feathers and go into “eclipse plumage,” which resembles the mottled coloring of the female. I’m not sure whether these boys are on their way in to their molt or on their way out. But in any event, within a few weeks, dull feathers will be replaced yet again with recognizable, jaunty bright colors.

This turtle reminded me of the White Rock Soda girl. What do you think?

Two young men with baseball gloves were captivated by the turtle on the rock. “I haven’t seen a turtle in, like ten years,” said one. When he realized there were turtles everywhere, swimming just beneath the surface of the water, he couldn’t tear himself away from the pond.

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Soon a group of ducks swam over, hoping for a hand-out.

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An interesting new sign has appeared near the pond, in addition to the “Do Not Feed the Wildlife” notices that are often displayed.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Really, my fellow citizens, what have you been up to while I’ve been away?

A large flock of pigeons lay about on the grass across the path.

Just a few of many resting pigeons.

Nap time for pigeons. These are just a few of a very large flock, almost all recumbent.

Nearby the turtle-watchers played catch.

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As we headed up the grand stone staircase, I spotted a feral cat mostly hidden in dense vegetation. Interestingly, the dog had no idea the cat was present until I stopped to take its picture.

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“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps (or sits) tonight.”

On the grassy slope just below Morningside Drive, a girl sat in quiet meditation.

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Just another summer Saturday in one of my favorite New York parks.

Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

June 21, 2013

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All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.

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Green, green and greener.

And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.

Female mallard and turtles.

Female mallard and turtles.

Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.

Cooling off.

Cooling off.

Now that the excitement of breeding season is over, male mallards are molting into eclipse plumage. Drab feathers replace the brilliant iridescence of breeding plumage.

Molting mallard.

Molting mallard.

Not every bird is on the same schedule. The head and neck of the duck below glitters and shines, although he is well into his molt.

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Still breaking out the bling.

Each year during their molt, ducks lose their flight feathers, rendering them especially vulnerable to ground predators. What ground predators, you may wonder, do ducks have to worry about here in our urban park? Well, feral cats, dogs off the leash and, possibly, raccoons. Morningside Park’s feral cats have been more visible than ever this past winter and spring.

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It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.

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The spot for the feedings is right by the great stone staircase, on the cliff behind the pond. The pond and its surrounding vegetation draw nesting ducks as well as sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins, night herons, egrets and many other species. The cats are beautiful animals, and I understand the impulse to care for them. I understand trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing them. But feeding them? Given what we now know about the devastation to North American songbirds since cats were established in the New World, do we really want to be feeding them?

We know a lot about the negative impacts of feeding wildlife, and I was happy to see these signs in Morningside Park.

Please Don't Feed Waterfowl.

Please Don’t Feed Waterfowl.

The signs address intentional feeding. But inadvertent feeding, in the form of trash and dropped food, is what keeps our rodent population so healthy – and I’m not just talking about squirrels, like the one below.

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Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.

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