Honey is back!!! (Or so I think)

Trixie and Norton had been missing from the pond for several days (and the weather’s been cold), so I was heartened this morning to see the pair of them sitting on the duck island in the middle of the lake. When I whistled, they came over. And this is what I saw when they waddled ashore to get their corn:

“Norton” was as handsome as usual, but in my excitement it took me a moment to notice that the female was not Trixie, for she had all her toes! (Trixie was missing a toe on her left foot.)

The new female. Could this be Honey, my beloved mallard hen whom I fed—and whose four offspring I helped raise—last spring and summer?

No toes missing (Honey had all her toes):

That’s not Trixie, and perhaps it’s not Norton, either. Moreover, this new duck, like Honey, had mottled dark pigment on her bill. So I immediately captured left and right shots of that bill to compare to last year’s photos. Here they are; you tell me if this is Honey or not (remember, she also came to my whistle):

New duck, left side of bill:

Honey, left side of bill:

New duck, right side of bill:


Honey, right side of bill (two photos):

Honey, right side of bill (photo 2):

New duck, front view of bill:

Honey: front view of bill:

And honey had all her toes:

Honey the duck

I’m pretty convinced, from the matching of the patterns, that this is indeed Honey, and she’s returned! What say you, readers? (Especially birders!)

As for Norton, well, I have no idea whether the drake mallard is the same as the one I’ve been feeding, or a different male whom Honey has chosen for her mate. I’ll worry about that later. Right now I’m pretty excited.



  1. Ann German
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I think, from the bill photos, that that is indeed Honey, returned. However, if another female shows up and answers to your whistle and looks like Honey, then you can reconsider. In the meantime, stay excited!!! (Why don’t you just ask her?)

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I agree Ann. It’s Honey! Be excited Jerry!

  2. J W
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Definitely Honey.

  3. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Disagree, not honey, sorry.

  4. Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Can anyone suggest ways to band these birds? Provide some certainty? I assume that requires some permitting if it’s even to be considered.

  5. Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The markings are darker (more contrasting) in last year’s photos of Honey. I know that coloring and intensity of coloring changes with age in parrots. So I’m assuming this could be the case with ducks. I am leaning toward the possibility that this IS Honey.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    To paraphrase Isaiah only slightly, they that wait upon their prized duck shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

  7. KD33
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    It’s Honey! Some changes in contrast, but the pattern is right. Congrats!

  8. glen1davidson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Ducks always look so pleased.

    Their bills make them look like they’re smiling a bit.

    Glen Davidson

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I think it is also the way they seem to be very confident in the way they walk. (I’m not sure why I get that impression either.)

  9. Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The pattern is decisive. It is Honey.

    Now you have a problem. Are you going to provide for two families of ducklings?

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      And if the drake with Honey is Norton, he’s got some ‘splaining to do.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I don’t think there’s room in the pond for two hens. Briefly Honey was sharing with another hen last year, but she had 6 chicks and disappeared one day (I don’t like to think what happened to them). But I’ll try to feed everyone who takes up residence.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      In other mallard societies I would see multiple females and males living together. There may be a dominance hierarchy, but they co-exist. But two hens with one drake? I don’t know.

  10. Colleen Milloy
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Definitely Honey!

  11. Christopher
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Are there any papers about bill patterns or color changes in mallards or related species? I’m sure somebody somewhere may have studied it at some point. I would feel more confident in the identification if I knew more about the biology of duck bills. I had never given the coloration or variability of their bills any thought before this issue arose so I haven’t a clue. I am, however tentatively, leaning towards a positive ID as the the one true Honey.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      Most of the relevant observations have been summarized at Cornell’s Birds of North America website.

  12. glen1davidson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Looking sweet enough to be Honey, at least.

    Glen Davidson

  13. Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Those spots on the bill tend to be slightly larger, but what I could tell they matched well with honey! The prodigal duck has returned!
    Or so I think.

  14. BJ
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    The romance continues! It was a separation, and I’m glad it didn’t turn into a divorce. I so wanted you two to reconcile.

    Just in case a divorce is down the road, I hope Honey didn’t have you sign a prenuptial agreement. If I know ducks, Honey would get all the mealworms and bread. Not to mention the home on the water…

  15. Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I am not at all certain the drake is Norton. Earlier photos showed a more prominent white neck ring.

  16. Taskin
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It looks like Honey to me. The male seems much lighter in colour than Norton doesn’t he?

    • Taskin
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Went back to a picture of Norton and his chest is dark chestnut brown, so this must be a different male.

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Good! I wouldn’t want him two-timing Trixie!

        • Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          Your excitement is delightful! 🙂

      • Bill Morrison
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        This male has an unusually light colored breast for a mallard drake. To me that is the most interesting part of the story. The brood of ducklings that they produce should be looked at for possible gene segregation. The duck may already have a clutch of eggs hidden somewhere.

  17. Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    If only my friend Raven (who is, despite her name, a human) were here to see this. She would love all this duck-a-do.

  18. Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m not convinced. In particular, note on Honey’s left side there is a largish dark spot at the level of the nostril, just in front of the feathers, which the current duck lacks. In reptiles, one common form of change in color pattern as an adult gets older is the deposition of melanin in keratinous structures (e.g., a turtle’s shell scutes). But in this case, we have an apparent reduction in melanization of a keratinous structure. It may well be that the differences between the two ducks are of the sort that do occur with aging, but by analogy with reptiles it’s not what I would expect. I’d like to get a duck systematist or raiser’s opinion on this.

  19. Mark R.
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I say yes.

    Among other similarities, on the two photos of their left bill, there is a dark triangular mark at the base of the bill (on the bottom) which is identical.

    • Gabrielle
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree, the triangular mark is striking.
      I think it’s Honey.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      That’s the bit that convinced me as well. There’s a sort of dent in the beak which doesn’t look typical at all.

      • GBJames
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        That’s no beak! That’s a bill! 😉

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! Yes. I was half asleep at the time. It was VERY early in NZ, and I went back to sleep a few minutes later. Forgive me Honey! 🙂

  20. GBJames
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I say they are all Honey!

    (I’m so confused!)

  21. Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Honeybunch is back!Certainly looks like a more mature Honey, going by the markings.

    This is just wonderful!

  22. allison
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Is 88K still around, or did he go back to Canada?

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t seen him (or her; I don’t know how to sex Canada geese).

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted April 6, 2018 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        Besides cloacal examination (ain’t happening), there are differences in the tails and differences in behavior. Females have a more pointed tail than males (I don’t know how to tell. Just read it online). Behavioral differences are that females do the nest building and rearing while males do the defending. Males are more aggressive.

        • Posted April 9, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          And geese can be *very* aggressive. Raven used to report that her geese that she’d raise would sometimes come close to taking off a finger. (A big deal, since she suffers from blood clotting disease.)

  23. revelator60
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The markings on the right side of the bill match exactly. There might be some discrepancies on the left, but they can be chalked down to different contrast levels or the sort of variation that comes with age. I therefore believe this duck is indeed Honey.

  24. Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Well, the ducks look so beautiful. The female duck has a mimicry colouration.

  25. Posted April 6, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I am convinced that this is Honey. And like Christopher, I am interested in research on bill patterns. Will anyone supply information?

  26. Reggie Cormack
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I would lean towards it being Honey. Hope so.

  27. Bruce Lyon
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Pattern trumps color in these sorts of things so for the readers that believe changes in contrast rule out Honey, I think they are incorrect. Speaking of being wrong, I bet Jerry a bottle of scotch that the other duck was Honey. I am convinced that I am wrong on that one and the return of the real Honey is very convincing. Jerry, I owe you a bottle of whiskey.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Did you guys have a whisky selected? Get him a bottle of Bunnahabhain and I’ll join you for a dram.

    • Posted April 6, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I forgot! YAY!!!!!! I’ll go easy on you and take a bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

      Since you’re an experienced ornithologist and professor, I’ll take your decision as dispositive!

      • Posted April 6, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        You are too kind. I would have insisted on Old Rip van Winkle.

        • Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          That would have been mean. Besides, I already have a rare bottle of Old Stagg, which is so strong that it’s classified as a hazardous material for interstate shipping.

  28. W.Benson
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t you just mark the damn duck?

    • Posted April 7, 2018 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Umm. . . . you do realize what that entails, right? I myself am not empowered to do it, and I don’t want to scare her.

      And she’s not a “damn duck”!!! JEBUS!

  29. Hempenstein
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Parts of my career could be said to have been built on pattern recognition (specifically comparing peptide maps of two isoforms of the liver enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase that is part of the alcohol metabolism pathway). I would have made it to Sweden nearly a year earlier but for battling my boneheaded advisor who could not see that the two forms were quite different based on the peptide maps, and that the maps were reproducibly comparible from batch to batch. Those interpretations were borne out once the full amino acid sequences were determined in Stockholm.

    All that by way of saying that the patterns on those duck bills are reminiscent of peptide maps, and that I think your interpretation is correct.

    For the next commentariat photo-recognition test, separately post LH sides of last year’s plus this year’s two and ask which two are most similar to each other. Then the same with the RH side, and post results. If you could find shots of some random duck, that would be even better.

    Otherwise, aren’t there any mallard experts who could weigh in on this?

  30. LB
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    She certainly looks like Honey to me. Yay!

  31. Diane G.
    Posted April 7, 2018 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    I concur with the majority–looks like Honey to me!

  32. bobkillian
    Posted April 7, 2018 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Honey pie, you are making me crazy
    I’m in love but I’m lazy
    So won’t you please come home.
    Oh honey pie, my position is tragic
    Come and show me the magic
    Of your (Hyde Park) song.

  33. Steve Bracker
    Posted April 7, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Here I think we can fall back upon Catholic tradition. Even though there seems to be some question about whether the accidents, the mere appearances, of New Hen are those of Honey, perhaps we can agree that the substance, the very essence, of New Hen and Honey are one. The Miracle of Ducksubstantiation: you read it here first.

%d bloggers like this: