Again: Is it Honey?

Reader Graham from the UK did a careful scan of the bill sported by our newly-arriving mallard hen. Comparing this year’s photos to last year’s photos of Honey, he seems convinced that it is the same duck. I’d sure like to believe that, but of course I am riddled with confirmation bias and must guard against my own wishes. Still, I think the chances are better than even that it is Honey.

Here is Graham’s comparison of the pigment markings on the ducks’ bills, with lines drawn to indicate similarities between last year (top) and this year (bottom). Right side first, then left. Graham’s notes are indented:

Last year’s dots have merged and faded but there is too much of a pattern match for it to be a coincidence.

I’m 100% certain it’s Honey.

Thanks to Graham for doing these analyses.

 

54 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Awesome work, I agree. I see the pattern, and how it might shift.

    But

    A control experiment would be necessary to be convinced.

  2. ploubere
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I’m more convinced by the pattern at the back of the left side of the beak. But the dots toward the front of the left side are missing.

  3. BJ
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The soap opera continues. Is it Honey, or is it Honey’s evil identical twin who tried to murder Honey with a blunt object to the head but instead Honey got amnesia and now her twin sister is taking over he life but 25 episodes from now Honey will lose her amnesia and come back and the police will take away her evil twin sister who will end up in an institution and be released 50 episodes later seeking revenge?!?

    Also, it turns out Honey’s mate is secretly a Mexican drug lord.

    • yazikus
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      James Pond? A Mexican drug lord?! Sign me up for this delightfully trashy, ducky drama.

      • BJ
        Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        His real name is Santiago Rodrigo Rodriguez. You find out when he shows up with a villainous mustache.

        • yazikus
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          he shows up with a villainous mustache duckstache.

          Ftfy 😉

          • BJ
            Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            Oh my Ceiling Cat, I can’t believe I missed that. You’ve made a fool of me!

            • yazikus
              Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

              I certainly never meant to run afowl of you!

              • BJ
                Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                You’re ducky I don’t hold grudges 🙂

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Love the story so far! Hoping there will be more episodes to come.

  4. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Surely someone has studied patterns in duck bills and how they change over time?

  5. Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    As posted years ago, it’s still the same issue: the key information is not in comparison of the supposed same duck, but of different ducks to see how similar beaks look like. For all I know all duck beaks could look identical, or they could be highly unique.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I’ve done that, and I see no bill patterns that are even close to Honey’s. I’ve looked at a fair few mallard hen beaks on the Internet, too. Of course, if you want me to look at every duck in the world, that would take some time.

  6. John Harshman
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    This needs study. How much do the bill patterns of female mallards differ in the population, and in what ways? How do they change over time? Is there already any literature on this? (I don’t know of any.) This needs the same rigor applied to DNA tests of identity.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      There’s got to be a way of getting some money Templeton for this.

      Effect of Prodigal Ducks on Spirituality

      ??

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        add “from” as required

        • JezGrove
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Just send the Templeton Foundation a bill.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      Breaking news: PCC(E) will publish one last paper on the variability of duck bill patterns!

      I kid. Sadly.

      -Ryan

  7. davidintoronto
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “It’s simplicity, itself, my dear Watson. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written a little monograph on the bills of 140 varieties of duck, geese and swan.” – The Botany Pond Mystery

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Soon they will have smart phones with facial recognition for ducks. Then we will know.

  9. Alex Zukerman
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Is it possible that this year’s duck is one of Honey’s ducklings that inherited her bill pattern and came back to the pond it was born in?

    • ploubere
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Good point.

  10. Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    If the beak pattern can change so much in a year, perhaps there’s a better way of identifying individual ducks? Is this what the pros do? Are there pros? I wonder how ducks identify each other?

    • John Harshman
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      People identify individual ducks by putting labels on them; leg and/or neck bands. Ducks probably identify individuals by voice.

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Of course but people are also undoubtedly sometimes in a situation where the duck is not labeled. Perhaps we need to work on a duck quack id system.

        • John Harshman
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          I forgot to mention the other method: genetics.

          • Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

            LOL. Evidently I needed to be more specific. How about non-invasive methods? On the other hand, perhaps our host could have identified Honey via DNA analysis of her poop. Still a bit expensive for that, I expect.

            • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              I have some of Honey’s feathers that I collected last year! That might be a source of DNA and then I could compare them to feathers from this year. Of course, I’d need a duck DNA expert, and they’re probably contaminated, too.

              • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                Is there a 40andMe site for ducks?

              • John Harshman
                Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

                You don’t need a duck DNA expert; anyone could do the extraction and sequencing. I’m not sure molted feathers would have enough DNA, though. You might talk to John Bates or Shannon Hackett. And I’m not sure what sequences would be good for identifying individuals. Maybe some microsatellite loci?
                Contamination might not be a problem.

  11. Jacques Hausser
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Recounting the numerous duck reports on this site, Botany Pond doesn’t seem to be a very famous place among mallards. Is is, apparently, mostly frequented by few regulars, what increases the probability that this lady actually is Honey. And if it’s not her, it is probably one of her daughters. But I’m confident it is her. You have to ring your ducks!

  12. nay
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m not convinced. Not only do the markings on Honey2 look different (only to me?), but she did not respond to the Professor’s whistle. I refuse to believe she could forget you, Professor.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s Honey or Honey’s doppelgänger.

  14. Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Give the duck a little time. There may be more signs to pick up on to help you tell.

  15. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    IMAGES BELOW:

    The red & black lines added by Graham to my collage encourages the eye to see patterns that may not exist. Especially as those lines obscure detail. I’ve put my bare collage next to Graham’s marked up version so readers can easily flick from one to the other:

    bills

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      The images are expandable/downloadable.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, a statistics teacher once showed us how putting a line of any slope through a scatter plot of random points can fool the eye into detecting a correlation that doesn’t exist. I don’t know if that is happening here, but it is a possibility.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but having looked at other mallard bills, these are pretty similar, I think.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      PCC[E] has boots for sale after a remarkable, miraculous transformation:

      ducktastic 3

  16. phar84
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Honey’s bill, quacking, response to call, feed preference, feathers, returning to same location, etc… putting it all together should ID our friend.
    Wonder if her ducklings and/or Frank will return also.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I say it’s Honey until another hen comes around and disproves it.

    Do you remember if last year Honey came to your whistle right away, or did it take a bit of time? I think you whistle-trained her 3-years ago.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I whistle trained her two years ago, and, as I recall, she came to my whistle right when she showed up last year. This year neither she nor the drake did. But Honey’s behavior did change a lot last year over the season, with her getting a lot more skittish at the end. Lord knows what a duck encounters down on the bayou!

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Who knew ducks were so mysterious!

        • JezGrove
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          The duck god, of course! Just like them, he moves in mysterious (in fact totally unducktecktible) ways.

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        I remember that last year you also had doubts whether the duck was Honey – and she turned out to be.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree. She looks like Honey to me. I also think the odds are long that another hen that looks so much like Honey would suddenly appear on Botany Pond.

  18. Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    “Lord knows what a duck encounters down on the bayou!”
    Creadence Clearwater Revival?
    I think (disappointing for you perhaps Prof(E), it is one of her more savy daughters. However, that should be a source of delight as you get to enjoy duck grandchildren. I am not convinced after looking at the post and Mosieur Fisher’s collage but, who knows what aging does to a ducks bill.

  19. Jay
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    As a statistician, I am skeptical of 100% certainty. I, for one, would like to see the current scans compared with some negative controls.

  20. JezGrove
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    If it does turn out to be Honey get her tagged, I’m not sure we can take this level of suspense too much longer.

  21. openidname
    Posted March 24, 2019 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    The confirmation bias is strong in this one.


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