I fed my ducks

Ceiling Cat help me, I’m back feeding the ducks again. Though I doubt that this new mallard hen is Honey because of the disparity of beak markings between this year and last, the female still comes to me when I whistle, and she did the very first time we encountered each other two days ago. Could a female duck, or her offspring, remember a whistle over a year, or do all mallards come when you whistle?

At any rate, the ducks (yet unnamed) got a copious breakfast of mealworms, and will get mealworms, corn, and peas later today. (I haven’t neglected my squirrels, either.)

Here’s this morning’s feeding:



  1. GBJames
    Posted March 11, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    IMO her response to your whistle is more powerful evidence that this is in fact Honey than the bill-patterning argues against it. Especially since, according to several comments in previous postings, bill and foot patterns can change over time in ducks.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      It could be her sole female offspring, though, as they heard and responded to my whistles last year. That’s a bit better, as I may get a chance to help rear Honey’s grandchildren.

      I wish I knew if this was Honey; I find the bill-changing data distressing. (I wish she had been banded!). But she doesn’t have Honey’s eyes, either.

      • Bruce Lyon
        Posted March 11, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Jerry: I am willing to make the ultimate bet‚ a bottle of single malt whiskey‚ that this female is your honey (probably impossible to be show so I am just showing off by making the bet). You find the bill-change distressing but this assumes that bills do not change. We know that they do. Even with the change there may be clues that can give you a sense of whether this is likely to be the same bird. As I noted in a previous comment, it looks like there are identical black spots by the bill in both birds. Try to get a closeup of the birds beak on her right side and compare with similar photos from last year. Second. It looks like there was already a darker pattern on Honey last year that might be similar to what is now black in the new bird. What might have happened is that the outline of the patch was in place last year but the female made only patches of black. This year she might have made the whole thing black. Again, by comparing closeups of the beak from last year and this year you could see if the broad outline of the beak saddle patch is the same.

        • Posted March 12, 2018 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          I’d love to make that bet because if it was Honey I’d be so delighted that I’d be glad to spring for a bottle of single malt.

          I will try to get a closeup to the beak on her right side; I’ve been using my iPhone but I’ll use my Panasonic Lumix for that.

          The fact that she came to my whistle from the outset was interesting, at least. She seemed to remember it!

      • GBJames
        Posted March 11, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        “But she doesn’t have Honey’s eyes, either.”

        She’s got an older and wiser gaze now, after a winter on the wing!

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Ducks that habituate human areas will commonly come to humans to be fed.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 11, 2018 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    You are the expert on this stuff so I do have to ask the obvious question. Maybe another expert will assist? Do you worry about dependence by feeding the ducks?

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Do you mean dependence by the ducks, or dependence by JAC?

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted March 12, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Funny, I suppose but no serious answer seen here.

      • Posted March 12, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink


  3. Posted March 11, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, you might like this story – I used your arguments from WEIT to allay some doubts my sister had about the theory of evolution after talking to a creationist. She asked if there were any examples of a new species arising in an observable time frame, so I brought up dog breeding and explained a couple of other lines of evidence.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Speciation has been observed lots of times. This is an old link, and some searching can find many more:
      All it takes are some genetic changes that prevent mating or reduces fitness between hybrids. Not a big deal, really.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Dog breeding isn’t speciation. My favorite examples of speciation are polyploidy in plants.

      • Posted March 12, 2018 at 6:22 am | Permalink

        Thanks, I didn’t know that.

      • Posted March 12, 2018 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Yes, polyploidy in plants is the best example, though we now have a new hybrid species in Galapagos finches. I don’t think dog breeds should be regarded as different species, and at any rate they’re domesticated. But polyploid plants have not only arisen in human lifetimes, but can also be duplicated in the lab to assure us that that is how they originated. Read Mark’s link, too.

  4. Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Everyone knows that before you feed a duck, you should band it so that you know it’s the same duck next time.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Provided that the duck allows it.

      • Posted March 11, 2018 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes. It must be consensual. Ducks have been exploited in the past. No more Peking duck!

  5. Liz
    Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I was going to ask last year (maybe six months ago) when you posted that you were going to “socialize” Honey with the other female duck, Daisy, I think, and I was thinking how in the world does he think he’s going to do that? Literally no idea how that would be done. Still curious.

    • Liz
      Posted March 11, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I sort of get it.

  6. busterggi
    Posted March 11, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Heck, I feed my wild friends all the time. Four bird feeders in front, just picked up a new hummingbird feeder for when its warmer.

    My raccoons (Grizzley & Rackets) & possum (Sweetie-face) haven’t been around for two nights but there’s a plate out for them when they drop by.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      I have a raccoon customer too, as well as a skunk, and a possum I call Priebus (apparently possums are good to have around as they will eat pests like ticks and fleas that other animals harbor). Priebus has a pink nose, pink eartips and the daintiest pink toes!

  7. eric
    Posted March 11, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Could a female duck, or her offspring, remember a whistle over a year, or do all mallards come when you whistle?

    Why not? These are animals that remember landmarks sufficient to perform an annual migration. Remembering the whistle that means food is chick’s play.

    Heck I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it wasn’t Honey, but it was a duck that lived at your same pond at about the same time and remembers merely seeing Honey get tasty snacks when you whistle.

  8. Diane G.
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    They are so cute! Happy ducks. 🙂

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