My duck is back again! (I think)

I’m sorry, but I’m going to subject you to another duck post. You don’t have to read it, of course, but don’t try to deplatform it!

Walking back from the doctor’s (good news: no cortisone, no surgery, just continued exercises), I was stopped in my tracks when I walked by the pond. There I spied TWO MALLARDS, a hen and drake, and one of them looked like my beloved hen Honey. Of course all hens look like Honey to me, so I whistled, which is how I used to call her for food. And, sure enough, she started swimming toward me, but she stopped about 15 feet away, as she has done for a while.

I wasn’t sure, but this may be the drake and hen who showed up last time, when the hen was definitively identified by a duck expert as Honey. (Duck Expert also thinks the drake is her son who was born this year.)

I ran upstairs, grabbed my Panasonic Lumix as well as a big cup of mealworms to feed them. (It’s clear they haven’t been hanging around for food, as I haven’t seen Honey since September 1.)  They both ate eagerly, but took care not to come too close. Still, the hen, but not the drake, perked up each time I whistled. The whistle response suggests that this is Honey.

First, the lovely pair today (the drake is in fine plumage):

Now, on to the identification.  It’s overcast, and I was hand-holding the camera at about a 1/10th of a second shutter speed. It took a gazillion photos to get even a couple I could use to crop and see the bill markings. I’ll put the definite Honey markings first (photographed several months ago), and then the ones I photographed today.

Top of the bill, Honey (old photo):

Honey duck bill markings

Top of the bill, photographed today:


Left side of the bill, Honey (photographed earlier):

Left side of the bill, today:

I say yes, but I’ve got a strong case of confirmation bias here. So you vote, and feel free to comment below. I will of course consult the Duck Expert on this most important matter.


  1. David Duncan
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    “You don’t have to read it, of course, but don’t try to deplatform it!”

    The laws of physics demanded that I read it. Yeah, I love ducks too.

    Do ducks breed with their own offspring or is there some sort of incest avoidance mechanism?

    • Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha, reminds me of the story of an old lady who called the local newspaper to report that her virgin cat had had kittens. She swore that the cat had never left the house. The newspaper sent a reporter around, who immediately noticed a large fat tom cat on the couch cleaning its whiskers. “What about him?” the reporter asked. “Oh, he can’t be the father” the lady said. “He’s her brother.”

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    What makes them think the drake is her son? Is it common for the young ones to hang around the first year. Have mom continue to do the laundry and so forth. Just kidding.

    • Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      I’ll ask the Duck Expert.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted November 2, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        I am thinking it could be common behavior. The young males would not likely be going out looking for mates until spring anyway. So hang around with mom for now.

        • Posted November 2, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          The one problem with the “sexy son” hypothesis is that the offspring left a long time before mom. How would she have FOUND her son?

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted November 2, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            Well, I am not one who promoted the sexy son business. As far as leaving months ago, I would wonder, left and went where? As I have mentioned before, we have ducks in the city here and they seem to be local ducks and geese too. They may move around to different ponds or lakes but do not migrate in the normal sense. They live here and have their young here.

          • busterggi
            Posted November 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            Maybe she’s Jewish?

            • Diane G.
              Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:01 am | Permalink


          • chrism
            Posted November 2, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            You could look it up on Duck Duck Go.

      • Charles McCullough
        Posted November 2, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Also, please ask the duck expert: Can male Mallards be aged by the number of tail curls? The drake in the picture appears to be a “two curler.” If he is two years old, perhaps Honey found him elsewhere.

      • David Coxill
        Posted November 2, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        Are female Ducks really called Hens ?

        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:14 am | Permalink

          No they are ducks!

        • GBJames
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink


        • Posted November 3, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          There are “peahens” too, so why not?

        • Charles McCullough
          Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink


        • Diane G.
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 2:32 am | Permalink

          Yes +1.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 3:05 am | Permalink

          Technically, female ducks are the only ducks. Males are drakes. 🙂

          But, as with chickens and cows, the technically female term is commonly used to refer to both sexes, esp. in a mixed flock/herd.

  3. Liz
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s really nice to look at these ducks after classifying kittiwakes and guillemots with excruciating attention to detail for the last week give or take a day. Looking at these ducks is so relaxing. They look more like kittiwakes than the sparrows from an earlier post. That might be an elementary observation but that’s what I see. I wonder why the kittiwake males and females aren’t different colors like the ducks. I posted under a picture here also. It’s probably Honey is she responds to the whistle while other ducks don’t. That and the marking on the bill is similar if not the same.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Duck Expert also thinks the drake is her son …

    Perhaps you should rename her Jocasta, and him, Oedipus.

  5. busterggi
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Of course its Honey and she remembers you, ducks are the elephants of the bird world.

    • Posted November 3, 2017 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      … & elephants are the ducks of the animal world…!

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The new pix seem to show a more exclusively two-tone pattern. The earlier ones show three-tone.

    So what do the duck experts say – do the bill markings change over time? Do the dark spots eventually grow to consume the mid-range spots?

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 3, 2017 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      Per Birds of North America:

      Bill broad, about as long as the head, and higher than broad at the base. Middle part of culmen slightly concave but wide, flat, broadly rounded tip is convex. Culmen and tip dull black. Hatchling bill flesh-colored and spotted black with a dull-black tip. Juvenile male bill color blend of pale olive and yellowish, sometimes with very dark patch on upper mandible. Juvenile female bill color blend of dusky olive and yellowish; may have dark blotches on upper mandible. In male Definitive Alternate plumage, bill almost entirely yellow with greenish cast, while in female Definitive Alternate plumage, bill ranges from brownish olive to orange, usually with blackish blotches focused on midsection of upper mandible. Bill of male Definitive Basic plumage a duller yellow olive, usually without black patches, while bill of female Definitive Basic plumage yellowish brown or brownish orange.

      One doesn’t have to be an expert in duck molting terminology to get the idea that bill markings change with molt stage in both sexes.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Thx, as suspected.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 4, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

          Rereading, my comment sounds a bit snarky. That wasn’t my intention–I just wanted to be sure folks would look beyond the technical descriptions and get the basic message.

          (As I’m sure you know, molting terminology can get pretty gnarly!)

  7. GBJames
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I think we need some comparative DNA analysis of this pair of ducks.

  8. Posted November 2, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Her reaction to your whistle is probably the strongest evidence that this is Honey. Especially since there was a lack of reaction by the Drake. She swam towards you expecting something. It’s very likely that this Honey.

    • Posted November 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Maybe PCC just has a whistle that turns on hen ducks.

      • Posted November 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        I must admit I hadn’t thought about that possibility.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I consider the responses to the whistle to be definitive. So that means the bill darkens with age.

  10. Posted November 2, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious as to why you call it the ‘left’ side of the bill, when it’s clearly her right side…

  11. BJ
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Honey Part VII: The Saga Continues!

    This has been my favorite ongoing soap opera.

  12. jrhs
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I cannot tell if it is Honey.

    Ooh… the fun of polling readers. Sometime it’s good to know I am not an oddball.

  13. Posted November 3, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    “You don’t have to read it, of course, but don’t try to deplatform it!”

    I love the idea of trying to de-platform particular posts. PCC puts up a post which REALLY offends you, so you stomp around shouting stuff about intersectionality at your computer screen. You don’t even have to leave the house. Everyone’s a winner.

  14. Posted November 3, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    In the top photo of Honey about half way down where the bill meets the face on the right side as we look at it, there is a small very dark patch – a kind of salient into the bill. This is absent from the new duck.

    In the left side photo of Honey, near the front of the bill there is a dark patch that extends forwards under the indentation on the top of the bill. This is absent in the new duck.

    Either this is not Honey or duck bill coloration can change with time.

  15. Posted November 3, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always found it amazing that traits like colourations and scars and such can persist through complete renewal of the underlying cells. For example, my father has scars from a nitric acid burn that are still visible (not as prominently, but they’re there) from ~60 years ago.

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