Readers’ wildlife photos

It’s Duck Day, which means that the post right after this one will be a “spot the duck” item. But here we have two lovely photos of flying mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) taken by Stephen Barnard, and I wanted to put them up today to remind me of the late departed Honey, my beloved hen mallard, who has still not reappeared. This was sent yesterday, and here are Stephen’s notes:

This morning there were flocks of hundreds (probably thousands) of mallards flying over the fields. They weren’t going anywhere. It was like they were doing group aerobatics, swirling and changing direction in coordinated ways, like a murmuration of ducks. I was stuck with a very long lens, so the photos show only a small fraction of the numbers.  Mallards are migrating through and I’ve never seen such numbers as this season’s.

I’ve seen this behavior before, but not on such a scale. It makes me wonder what they’re up to. There didn’t appear to be any avian predators they were avoiding, and they were using up a lot of energy. This went on for many minutes. Maybe they were showing off their strength to their competitors. Mallards are pretty aggressive to one another.

It looked like there was a paucity of males in this flock, but, not thinking, I asked Stephen about this. His response:

Non-breeding and molting males can be mistaken for females. (Mallards molt twice a year, I believe — in the spring and the fall.) Also, there must be quite a few male juveniles, easily mistaken for females.)

Honey has probably flocked up by now. If she returns to the ponds and  successfully reproduces you have the makings of a children’s book. [JAC: Yes: Jerry and His Duck Honey]

A while later Stephen wrote me this:

Something just occurred to me. Maybe the mallards are molting, and they’re doing all this crazy flock-flying (it’s nuts) to shed the old feathers. I’ll be on the lookout for feathers in the barley stubble.

If you know anything about this behavior, weigh in below.

5 Comments

  1. Randy schenck
    Posted September 29, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Do not know that much about it but the map legend seems to show a large part of the country, from Idaho to New Mexico is year round region for Mallards. Possibly, being on the northern end of the year round area, these Mallards are grouping for the migration south. Anywhere along the route you can see thousands of ducks and geese stopping along the way at their favorite places to feed.

  2. Liz
    Posted September 29, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I was wondering when staring at the second picture if those were both male and female ducks. They looked more female to me but I really didn’t know. Then I kept reading and that makes sense. Maybe they were flying like that for the same reason the starlings do it. I don’t know what that reason is but maybe it’s the same.

  3. Posted September 29, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Interesting!
    Just yesterday I snuck out after work with the camera and startled a group of mallards at a pond. They watched me warily, and the sight of them made me think about your duck.

  4. Bruce Lyon
    Posted September 29, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    My recollection is that ducks are different from other birds in the molt patterns. In the old days people referred to eclipse plumage but I checked the Cornell species account and I did see the term used. According to the species account for the mallard, males are only in dull plumage for a few weeks in late summer. If my interpretation of the timing of molt is correct then we should not see males in their basic (winter) plumage this time of year, but perhaps first year males have different timing from older males.
    Ducks are also unusual in other respects: I think courtship can occur pretty early in some species (way before breeding) so it possible that courting is underway. One other thing is that one often sees ‘three bird chases” where two or more males attend a female and chase the hell out of her. One is the mate and the other(s) are interlopers. I am not sure how early this sort of behavior starts in the season thought.

  5. Glenda Palmer
    Posted September 30, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I live on a creek in Kelowna BC and I once asked a birder friend, in late summer, where all the male Mallards had gone. Her response was “drakes in drag”. She explained the moulting and how colours come back during the early winter. When the males are all bright and shiny the courting begins again. Mallard courting is a very serious, rugged enterprise.


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