Readers’ wildlife: My ducks

We’re down to two ducks: Honey and her daughter Phoebe, once a runt but now getting bigger. Phoebe is able to fly (we’ve seen her take to the air twice), but is still hanging around her mom, as she’s a timorous and clinging duck. She is also well fed on corn and mealworms. (Phoebe is a female because when she was isolated she would sometimes quack loudly. Only female mallards quack.)

The antagonism between the two has waned to almost nothing: they forage together on the grass and only very rarely does Honey give Phoebe a light peck. They’re both eating well and look pretty plump.

Yesterday afternoon was magical: the ducks were resting in the shade on the west grassy lawn of the pond, and nobody was around. I fed them a lot of corn on the grass (my favorite way to feed them, as none is wasted by sinking in the water), and, after lunch, they sat together on the cement ledge at the edge of the pond. They know me and trust me, so I was able to sit only a few feet away from them, and for about 15 minutes we just communed, looking at each other and—I like to think—enjoying each other’s company. Then some kids came by, chased the ducks into the pond, and their dad gave them Cheez-Its to feed to the ducks. I said, “I don’t think it’s wise to feed them that stuff,” and the father said, “It’s only a few.” But Cheez-Its are not good for ducks, and they had already fled to the Duck Island, so the turtles got them. Perhaps next year I’ll ask the University to put up a “Do not feed the ducks” sign.

I am going to Connecticut from Wednesday through Sunday, and I don’t know if they’ll still be here when I return, as Honey’s flight feathers are growing in rapidly. My hope is that Mom and Phoebe will fly away together so that Honey can show little Phoebe the ropes.

Here are three photos from our Moment Together yesterday. I took a lot more photos and videos and will try to post them by Wednesday.

First, the pair resting by the pond. Note that Honey (foreground) is growing in her wing feathers, and that mom and daughter are comfortable with each other.  Phoebe has also grown! They both have lovely blue speculums. A down feather is hanging off Honey’s breast.

A close-up of Honey. It’s a good shot of her right side bill markings that I can use to identify her should she return next year:

The left side of Honey’s bill for identification:

And our favorite duckling, Phoebe. She was once traumatized and I was really worried that she would die, but I like to think I helped her by making sure she was amply fed when her siblings chased her away. Note that her bill is longer and without stippling:



  1. Laurance
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    At our park down the street there’s a sign that tells people to not feed the ducks bread (and I forget what else) because it’s harmful to them. People WILL feed the ducks regardless of rules, and the sign tells them what kind of food to offer. And there are vending machines that you stick a quarter in and get food that is good for both the ducks and the fish.

    If a “Don’t feed the ducks” sign went up, would it mean that YOU couldn’t feed the ducks and might get in trouble if you were caught? There must be a way to steer the public in the right direction and not stop conscientious duck lovers from feeding the ducks in the right way.

    • Posted August 13, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      The University knows I feed the ducks and they like it, as the ducks are a draw to Botany Pond (they even put a picture of the whole brood on the University Instagram). I could simply ask them to put up a sign with the understanding that I would feed the ducks. We couldn’t have a food-vending machine; that wouldn’t fly. I haven’t really seen anybody feed stuff to the ducks that was good, so I’d prefer to be the Only Feeder.

    • Posted August 13, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The sign should read simply:

      (Unless you’re Jerry Coyne)

      • George
        Posted August 13, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        You’re forgetting Anna. Maybe
        Do Not Feed the Ducks.
        We have highly trained overqualified people for that task.

      • Posted August 13, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink


        • George
          Posted August 13, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          Anna is a sociologist.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I believe the correct response, after the guy said, it’s only a few, would be – none would be better.

  3. Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    This is such a heart-warming post…. thanks, Jerry.

    I think the gentle pecking is a reminder of the pecking order, to keep Phoebe in line. I wonder too if Honey pecks when Phoebe invades her personal space. I remember a doc on great nesting colonies of birds (was likely albatrosses) where the nests were meticulously spaced a minimal distance apart, otherwise the neighbours might peck each other’s chicks.

  4. Diane G
    Posted August 14, 2018 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Love the pics! It’s interesting how some of the markings on Honey’s upper bill seem to be carry on to the lower bill. Makes one wonder about the ontogeny of bills.

    I love the way their bills seem to turn upward at the corners, giving them the look of tentative, shy smiles.

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