Sunday duck report: 1 baby left

Well, 7 of the 8 ducklings have flown the coop, leaving, as of this morning, just little Phoebe, who appears to be in pretty good shape, and Honey, who is temporarily flightless. They both seem able to forage on their own, and Phoebe’s wings appear to be strong as judged from her flapping displays, so all is well. I am still feeding them, of course, but they reject the duckling food and eat only corn and a few mealworms. Here are some photos from the last few days.

Here is Honey with the three “big” ducklings a few days ago (Phoebe isn’t visible). Two of them flew the coop the day before yesterday:

Another shot of the three before two of them flew away. You should be able to spot Honey in these photos as her wing feathers are much smaller:

The three big ‘uns dabbling by the water outlet and resting with Honey on Duck Island #1 (Phoebe stays on the other island):

And here’s Honey yesterday with the one remaining duckling. (Notice the difference in wing feathers.) The “babies” look like freshly minted waterfowl with their bright yellow bills and fresh, well-groomed plumage. I love it when the ducks cock their heads to look up:

“Duck crazy hour” before two took off. When they start swimming furiously, flapping their wings in the water and flying short hops across the pond, it’s a good sign that they’re getting restless and will soon be gone:

Look at those big wings! I expect they need powerful wings to carry those chubby bodies through the air. And their violet-blue speculums are beautiful.

“Duck races” and vigorous diving are another sign of imminent departure:

Honey tries her wings. Notice that they’re nowhere near as big as the full wings of the youngsters, but also that the secondary flight feathers are starting to grow in (she’s in a molt, which is customary for a mother fledging her young):

Flight! It happens so fast that I can’t really get a good shot:

Yesterday there were a total of three: Honey, Phoebe, and the youngster who bullied Phoebe (“Bully Duck”). I got a video of Honey and BD having their postprandial ablutions. They love to dive into the water inlet, perhaps to clean off, or perhaps because it brings food toward the surface:

Phoebe is not only smaller than the other ducks, but also has a darker bill. I’m not sure whether that’s why she was picked on, but she seems fine now. Here she is grooming and trying her wings:


These are shots for the record: the pigmentation of Honey’s bill from both sides. It will help me ID her should she return next year.  Right side:

Left side:

And on guard: she’s watching her offspring to the bitter end. What a great mom!




  1. Posted August 5, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, have you noticed any changes in Honey’s bill color over the course of this season? That might give us important data about temporal variability, which might come in handy next year if there are any doubts.

    Did the babies have distinct-enough bill patterns to perhaps recognize if they return next year?

    • Posted August 5, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      I’d have to compare my earlier photos to this one, and I will. But the patterns were similar enough to last year’s that I’m sure of my ID.

      The babies had NO bill stippling, so there was no way I could tell them apart, much less recognize them again. Pity!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    It was a good show. All you have to add is water and the ducks will find it.

  3. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Are you suggesting that the ducklings engaged in “billism” and bullied Phoebe because she had a dark bill? Horrors! I hope not. That would be scandalous. Where were the SJDW* squad? (Social Justice Duck Warrior). Actually, I think they’re in Berkeley today, where I hear that police have blocked off all the entrances to downtown because of the fisticuffs that are promised when Antifa and anti-antifa are scheduled to knock heads.

    • Posted August 5, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s “runtism”, the siblings recognise the runt and as fighting your own size is not a good strategy for resources, energy use, it’s all “keep the runt off the food”
      Plus time left to put on weight and strength, feather growth (the biological clock) AND teenage arrogance (my dig at young punks) pick on a sure thing, all ably aided by “runtism”.
      If the Prof(E) and Anna didn’t make sure Phoebe was feed it’s possible she would not be making it through the winter or even make it thus far, certainly a more difficult time of it.
      We have about 40 ducks at the local beach all year round and they somehow maintain that number. I tend to think it is about as many as the beach can sustain, so you become a local duck and “police it”.
      Humans have been told (signs) to not feed them bread and all above is pure conjecture.

    • Posted August 5, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      So, that’s where they went after Portland.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Done a good job, pops.

  5. Linda Calhoun
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Phoebe may be around for awhile. She will probably grow better without all the stress of being picked on.


  6. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    What Ken said. It looks like Phoebe will be off within a couple of days, then there’s just Honey until her feathers grow in.

    After that she’ll be off to find a bloke. Do Mallards have regular partners? Will it be Frank who guards her until her eggs are hatched and she’s strong enough to guard her chicks alone or another drake? How many ducklings will she expect Jerry to provide supplementary food for? Will he be there, or will he be taking advantage of retirement to …? These are the questions of duck soap opera.

  7. George Pawlus
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know how far ducklings will travel initially after fledging? The closest places from Botany Pond are Washington and Jackson Parks – about 1/2 mile west and east. Looking at a map (finding green spaces with water), there is Sherman Park about 1.5 miles west of Washington Park and Oak Woods Cemetery about 1.5 miles south of Botany Pond. Marquette Park is 5 miles WSW. Garfield Park is about 10 miles northwest. Really good duck habitat is about ten mile south in and around Wolf Lake and Lake Calumet. I don’t think the Chicago River is good duck habitat. Neither is Lake Michigan with its big waves.

    Eventually they will fly south. Where will they go in the meantime?

  8. Posted August 5, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    You’ll soon be an empty-nester, or should I say empty-ponder.

  9. Posted August 5, 2018 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Alas, soon to end is Season 1 of Days of Our Flyers. It’s been truly wonderful to have you share this with us, Jerry.

    Though I love them all, I love Phoebe and Honey the best!

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    “These little-town blues are getting me down
    I’ll make a brand new start of it, in a bigger park…

    I wanna wake up in a river that’s 10 feet deep
    To find I’m king of the flock, queen of the peep….

    These little town blues are melting away
    I’ll make a brand new start of it,
    In Lincoln Paaaaaaaarrrrrrk!”


  11. ...
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Birth rate: female/male?

  12. Diane G
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Were any of the ducklings other than Phoebe ever known to quack? It sounds unlikely but I’m wondering if perhaps she was the only female of the brood. This would also explain her smaller size.

    • Posted August 6, 2018 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think at least three of the eight are females, as I heard them quack when they were together.

      • ..
        Posted August 6, 2018 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        So the male ducklings Don’t look like Frank. How come Honey hooked up with Frank?

        • Posted August 7, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          It’s not clear that Frank was the father. In all likelihood he was because he hung around for a while, but we can’t be sure.

      • Diane G
        Posted August 6, 2018 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Jerry. I thought you’d mentioned that before but wasn’t sure I could trust my memory.

        Too bad we can’t mark Phoebe! If a non-Honey hen shows up next year, it could be her daughter. 🙂 (Whom you may have saved from natural (de)selection.)

        Of course, it could be one of the other daughters as well, I guess.

  13. Posted August 6, 2018 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    I missed all the fun when I was internet free for the last 11 days!

  14. busterggi
    Posted August 6, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Hang in there, Honey’s grandkids will need you.

  15. Hempenstein
    Posted August 6, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Glad you took good photodocumentation of Phoebe’s bill if needed next year. Do the youngsters molt, or just transition straight from duckling feathers to the ones they need to fly the pond? I was sorta surprise to see that she has the blue feathers already.

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