Saturday duck report: A mallard fight at Botany Pond; sadness ensues

The soap opera continues at Botany Pond, culminating yesterday in a terrible duck fight between James and an invading drake, and then the apparent displacement of James from Honey’s affections by the new interloper duck.  That incident also included the interloper getting trapped in a window well, and me having to rescue him.

But let’s start at the beginning. On Tuesday all was well: Honey and James were resting happily at the pond, and Anna and I fed them. Here’s Anna tossing them corn from a can (you can see it in mid-air):

Honey heard a noise above (her hearing is far better than mine), and did her cute cocked-head pose to look up. Because their eyes are on the sides, ducks have to turn their head sideways to see above them. (This photo is out of focus because the light was low and the shutter speed slow.)

The trouble began yesterday morning. The ducks were gone on both Wednesday and Thursday, and I thought for sure they’d left for good on their Great Migration. I was a bit sad but also happy that Honey and James had departed together. On both days I still made regular visits to the pond with food, just in case.

When I went downstairs on Friday morning, I saw one of the office staff and said, “I’m going to feed the ducks, but I guess they’re still gone.” The lady replied, “Well, I saw two males in the pond a while back.” Two males! I couldn’t believe it, but if it were true it meant Big Trouble. But when I got to the pond, only Honey and James were there. I fed them, but they were very skittish and didn’t eat much.

When I returned for another feeding a few hours later, there were indeed interloper drakes in the pond: two of them, making a total of three including James! James and Honey were cruising around the pond, with James particularly intent on driving away one of the Devil Ducks (that’s what I call them). He was after only one of them, whom I’ve now named Billzebub. Here are Honey and James cruising around, with James ultimately taking out after Billzebub. James didn’t hurt him or attack him, for James is a gentle duck and only wanted to warn the interloper. Needless to say, they weren’t interested in food.

The Devil Ducks have white-speckled heads, which I suspect means they’re molting. You can easily tell them apart from James:

The troubles mounted.  I decided to drive away the interlopers with my Super Soaker squirt gun, but it only made them fly to another part of the pond. Finally, James decided to investigate where Billzebub was ( he had gone to the narrow part of the pond), and when they encountered each other they got into a terrible fracas, which I filmed with trembling hands. Before I took the video below I did everything I could to break up the fight, including squirting them, shouting, and waving a branch at them. It was to no avail; they were in it well and truly.

Note below that Billzebub is the aggressor; James seems to want to escape the fracas but the Devil Duck wants to peck him. You can also hear Honey quacking: she was nearby watching the fracas—perhaps to see which duck was the victor.  Eventually I got them apart with the squirt gun, but they just started fighting again in the main part of the pond. It’s all about sex, of course, and perhaps territory.

Finally, I managed to squirt the fighting pair again, and Billzebub flew from the pond to the nearby sidewalk—accompanied by Honey! (It’s the first time I’ve seen her fly.) Together they waddled into the bushes, and I decided to pursue Billzebub further, hoping that I could get him to leave the pond permanently by squirting him. When I did that, however, Honey flew back into the pond but Billzebub flew to a basement window, somehow managing to enter the window well by flying underneath a set of narrow bars.

Billzebub was then trapped in the window well, trying to get out by hurling himself against the bars and flapping his wings. I had no choice: I had to free him.

It was not easy. He was flapping around, kicking, and making little quacks. I knew I had to secure his wings so he wouldn’t break them, and so I reached underneath the bars, through the rather small gap, and managed to grab his body, holding his wings closed against it. Then I carefully worked his head underneath the bars. When his head was out, I pulled his body out very gently and carefully. It was not easy, as the gap was just a tad bigger than a compressed duck body. (I don’t know how he flew in there so quickly!) I prized him free and immediately put him down (he was wet and also heavy.).  He walked away quickly, and seemed all right.

Yes, he was all right, because an hour later I found Billzebub and Honey sitting cozily on the duck island, while James was huddled disconsolately on the edge of the pond, gazing at his former girlfriend and her new lover. It was heartbreaking, I tell you.

An hour later, James was still there and the new lovers were cozily ensconced on the island. I couldn’t bring myself to feed them. I haven’t gone downstairs this morning, as it’s still dark, but I hope everyone is gone.

It was and is saddening to me. First, James was attacked, and didn’t fight back because he’s a kindly drake. But that probably caused him to lose favor in Honey’s eyes, as she wants a mate who can defend her. It seems, then, that the fight caused Honey to switch affection from James to Billzebub. That’s sad because I thought James and Honey were a good pair. But you can’t obviate female choice in nature.

And now I’m not only sad, but feel guilty on three counts. First, I feel that I’ve lost affection for Honey because she switched mates so readily. I know that’s a dumb feeling, as nature will be nature and Honey chose the drake she found most appealing. Still, the sight of James huddled on the shore, looking sad and defeated, was heartbreaking.

I also feel guilty about this: I could have killed Billzebub when he was trapped in the window well, and then perhaps Honey would have stayed with James. Now I am not at all capable of killing an animal, much less hurting one, so this wasn’t in the cards, but someone to whom I told this story got me thinking about this when she she said, “Hmm. . . that duck could have made a nice dinner.” That was said in jest, but I started thinking. . .   And now I feel guilty for even entertaining those thoughts. No wild animal deserves death just because a stupid professor thinks he’s not a fit mate for his favorite mallard hen.

Finally, I could not bring myself to feed Honey yesterday, as that would also have involved feeding Billzebub as well, and I couldn’t bear to reward him. But that is stupid too, for ducks must have their noms, and I want Honey to be nice and plump before she migrates. So I will go downstairs with food in an hour, and feed every duck in the pond.

Nature must do what it will, and at some point I have to let go. I guess the time is now. But I’ve bonded with these wild animals over the summer, and it’s hard.

The only upside of this, and it’s not a big one, is that I finally got to hold a wild mallard. Sadly, it wasn’t the way I wanted. But I did rescue the duck, even though it was from a situation that I myself created.

I’m kind of hoping that all the ducks will have gone, so that I’ll see no more fights and not have to feed Billzebub. Then I can simply wait to see if Honey returns next year. But it’s not a good way to end Duck Season.

***************

I just went downstairs with food, as it’s getting light. It’s raining, and all the ducks were gone. I suspect they’re gone for good. This isn’t the way I wanted it to end, but at least Honey is fine and fledged eight healthy offspring. I hope she has a good winter down south and comes back to me in the Spring.

43 Comments

  1. Serendipitydawg
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    It really is a shame that Shaekspeare has joined the choir invisible, this is high drama indeed.

    Glad the interloper was OK after getting trapped.

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Shakespeare! I am going back to using Bill Spokeshave, I never mistype that.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        There was not standard spellings for words in & around Bill’s day. See these examples: Shakespere, Shackspeare, Shakespear, Shakspere, Shaxspere, Shaxper, Shakspeare, Shackespeare, Shackspere, Shackespere
        Was it dictionaries that got us obsessed by ‘correct’ spellings?

      • Merilee
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Willy Wiggleweapon

        • Frank Bath
          Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Bill Waggerdagger.

          • Merilee
            Posted October 6, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

            +1

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      What Iago convinced Othello could happen to him with Desdemona.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    You’re a good man, PCC(E)

  3. Mike
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Sad, but such is life.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Animal behavior will play itself out and I watch it on the ponds here in the city. Somehow they work it out in their own ways. Surely all the ducks there will do the same. Not that much different than parents with kids. Eventually they must go and exist on their own. At least most of them.

  5. alexandra Moffat
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    My sympathies. It is so hard to let nature be when we think we could make things “nicer”. But that is a human standard – and nature did well before we came along and upset balances.
    You certainly helped Honey to become the Belle of the Ball and so her contribution to evolution may be more towards survival when breeding with a stronger duck.
    You could write a wonderful children’s book about this story – know any illustrators? There is natural history, philosophy, biology and more in it.

    • JezGrove
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Failing a book, perhaps the “reality narrative” for Love Island – it sounds like the pampered contestants on that show have nothing compared to the duck protagonists.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Maybe she should henceforth be known as “Honey of Troy,” carried off to a foreign land by her abductor Paris, with poor James in the role of King Menelaus.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Rewriting Botany Pond doings so soon after the event eh?! We have a written eye witness account which reports that Honey of Troy eloped – how long before the word is she walks on water & fed an entire flock?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        If I’m recalling my Hellenic mythology correctly, there were suggestions (particularly in the non-Homeric versions) that the beauteous Helen may have been complicit in her abduction — much like our little two-timer from Botany Pond. 🙂

  7. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    My name is Michael & I’m a duck post addict

    Duck is as Duck does Jerry. You can’t bar Honey from your table just because she’s dropped college nerdy Duck for tattooed biker Duck!

    Reminds me of school discos* when I was much younger – I played James more than once. I have read every duck post & naturally I am attached to these floating, bobbing, quacking persons, but I recognise that other persons [feathered or not] never turn out the way we expect.

    * Don’t say “disco” to youngsters – they snigger

    • Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Ain’t easy being a surrogate Duck Daddy, that’s for sure!

    • Merilee
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Not from your table, but preferably from your dinner plate. Must admit I did think of Billzebub confit😋, though I could never kill a critter, either.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        🙂

  8. Divalent
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Never try to insert yourself into the middle of someone else’s love triangle as a mediator; no good ever comes from that. 😀

  9. James Heard
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry was not so much interfering with nature as, like it or not, he was part of nature— and in this case he was part of a natural soap opera!

  10. prinzler
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’m sorry for how this turned out for you, but as other posters have said, there’s a larger lesson to be learned – or re-understood, in your case – at Botany Pond.

    I’d love to see a book on The Soap Opera of Botany Pond.

  11. mordacious1
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Perhaps James is the interloper. The new drake being the father of the kids from last year.

  12. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    A deeply heartfelt tail! I can certainly relate to having strong feelings when a wild aquaintance behaved as they do rather than how I felt they should do.

  13. ploubere
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    At some time kids will always disappoint us, even the ones we adopt.

  14. ploubere
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    According to Ducks Unlimited, they don’t bond for life, just for a mating episode. We don’t even know if James is the father of Honey’s children.
    http://www.ducks.org/conservation/waterfowl-research-science/waterfowl-mating-systems

    • Posted October 6, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      I think that Francis Drake was the daddy. Remember? James Pond came along much later.

      • ploubere
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        You’re right, I remember now.

  15. Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure you’re ready yet, for that trip to Africa you want to do, to see the wild animals there. You might try to get between a lion and a cute little gazelle.🙂

  16. Giancarlo
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Are we draw a lesson for the future of our evermore sophisticated genetic tinkering, from the fact that not even having an Emeritus Professor of Evolution and Ecology as your ally can make you the fittest (or at least fitter) for reproduction?

  17. Roo
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Aw. I think animals can bring out some of our rawest emotions because our reaction to their suffering is generally uncolored by the usual human judgements. If my niece has to take antibiotics and pitches a fit, there is a sense of sympathy but also a bit of frustration – “Argh, why can’t you just cooperate!”. If I take my cat to the vet I feel nothing but despair over her frightened cries from the carrier. If a pair breaks up in real life, we swoop in with lots of human judgements “Oh, what’s all that sulking for, they keep repeating this pattern and then stew in being the victim… there’s two sides to every story maybe he didn’t call her on her duck birthday after all… I know that other duck is kind of a jerk but he really is just the funniest guy…” Etc. If it’s an animal, we can see the hurt of rejection in the rawest way.

    If there’s maybe something uplifting to take away from this, maybe it’s to let animals show us more about what compassion looks like – and also to remember that because they lack the long judgements / narratives that we do, that they tend to heal and move on much more quickly. James will be deeply sorrowful for the time being but, unlike a human, won’t develop some kind of complex about the whole thing, he’ll continue on with his duck life, doing duck things, and be happily splashing around again soon. In that sense us humans could probably learn something from the ducks!

    • Diane G
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

      So, you don’t think Honey’s going to need to get a restraining order?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 6, 2018 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        You are on top form of late – the sardonic funnies coming out left’n’right. In your previous life you must have been a no-nonsense Crown Heights or Brooklyn, takes no prisoners Jewish lady born world weary, pragmatic & blessed with an unerring shoe tip to testicles reflex action.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted October 6, 2018 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          Not writing with ref to Roo’s excellent comment BTW

        • Diane G
          Posted October 7, 2018 at 4:15 am | Permalink

          LOL! Must say, I don’t recognize that description, but I do love it! 😀

      • Roo
        Posted October 7, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I’m picturing them all on a duck therapist’s couch trying to quack out their issues, then forgetting why they’re there when they notice the therapist has a bowl of crackers on the table.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 6, 2018 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Diane G
      Posted October 7, 2018 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      I agree, Roo. Animals and babies. You can’t explain to them why bad things happen or some things hurt.

  18. Posted October 6, 2018 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    In a sad time of Trump, McConnell and Kavanaugh, thank you for sharing your Botany Pond Duck romance and saga with us. I’ve looked forward to every posting. May the story turn out well.

  19. Posted October 6, 2018 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    That’s why you always gotta know where your towel is! If it were me, I confess that I’d be tempted to wrap up Billzebub in my towel (or jacket or t-shirt) and drive him somewhere nice near water, a little outta town perhaps. But it’s possible that Billzie might be the reason Honey was AWOL at times, since her babies fledged.

    The soap opera is not over yet! Watch out to see if Honey is being harassed by more than one male. In this case, not sure what can be done, after all they are WILD ANIMALS.

  20. Diane G
    Posted October 6, 2018 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh, how wrenching! I can think of only two good things to have come out of this incident–1), the coyne-ing of the great name Billzebub; and 2), the knowledge that super-soakers are in fact not much of a selection pressure…

  21. Scott
    Posted October 7, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Engrossing, yet saddening story. But as you noted, nature is what it is. But our feelings are real, too.

  22. Jon
    Posted October 7, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Let me know when your two mallards go South. Will have my trusty Lab fetch the DEVIL DRAKE as Honey comes into my duck calling/decoy spread. Won’t shoot her, I promise…


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