Katie is really Honey! She returned!

UPDATE: I’m told by one of my fellow duck farmers that Honey nested on the second floor ledge of the “Botany Building” (now Erman) last year and the year before, and “Katie” (really Honey) nested on the third floor ledge this year. So not only does she come back to the same pond to breed, but she makes her nest on the ledges on the same side of the same building. What a hen!


I am so excited! Reader darwinwins wrote yesterday that he/she thought that Katie was really Honey. But I was dubious and didn’t check.  Then reader smokedpaprika posted several links to photos of Honey from last year.  So I did a bill comparison, and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the hen I named “Katie” this year is really Honey. Thanks to these readers for the spot!

Here’s a picture of the right side of Honey’s bill, taken on August 12, 2018:


Honey’s bill 2018

And here’s a picture of the right side of Katie’s bill from August 7, 2019, posted yesterday (I’ve cropped it twice to emphasize the bill):


This is an absolute match as far as I’m concerned. Notice especially the shape of the dark patch running along the bottom margin of the top bill. A near perfect match!

Honey, then, has returned two years in a row after her first visit. When I first started feeding her and her ducklings in 2017, there were four babies. Last year she had ten, and eight survived to fledging. This year she had ten and nine survived (one died as a subadult for reasons unknown, perhaps after flying into a building). Therefore, she’s fledged 21 ducklings with our help.

What a hen! I’m just a bit sad that I didn’t know who she was when she showed up in April of this year, and that I just found out today.

Do I dare hope she’ll return again in 2020?

Right now I’m going down to feed her and everyone else. (Yesterday she was still here, consorting with the giant drake Ritz Quacker.)


  1. BobTerrace
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    You didn’t recognize her because she updated her wardrobe over last winter.

  2. GregZ
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    That is totally awesome.

  3. Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:33 am | Permalink


  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Excellent results!

    Perhaps a footprint can be obtained?

  5. GBJames
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Very nice. My money is on her returning in the Spring.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I wish you could somehow band her.

    • Linda Calhoun
      Posted August 26, 2019 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      I was just going to post the same thing.

      Also, I was fairly sure that Katie and Honey were one and the same because Honey would return to a reliable food source, as will most animals.

      But, I wasn’t sure enough to insist.


  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 9:07 am | Permalink


    You never forgot Honey and she never forgot youI think both of you are singing this:

    • rickflick
      Posted August 26, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      The drake dropped that hen for no good reason!

  8. caroline burton
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Wow, I’m so happy for you – and Honey!

  9. Posted August 26, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    21 surviving ducklings and probably more to come. Honey’s genes will be well represented in the mallard pool.

  10. Posted August 26, 2019 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I wonder if there are machine learning techniques that can help re-identify birds. There must be. I’ve similar needs with whale watchers. I played a little with some Python code and the results can be hit and miss, but when the data sets are large the routines perform much better.

    Keep taking pictures from many angles of Honey and future algorithms will know better than us if it’s her.

    • Posted August 28, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      If the bill markings are as unique and constant as Jerry suggests, then simply taking photographs of them and learning based on those sounds sufficient.

  11. Posted August 26, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    PS there was a reader last year, I don’t remember who, who described the black pattern on Honey’s right-side bill as “a dog chasing a motorcycle.” That stuck in my memory. When I saw the same pattern (slightly varied) on “Katy” yesterday, I knew she was Honey.

    • prinzler
      Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I *totally* see that. Yeah!

  12. jhs
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Honey loves you. She came back to see you.

  13. Teresa Carson
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    What a sweet story this has turned out to be. I couldn’t understand how Honey could not come back — but she has!

  14. enl
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I definitely see the similarities, but am still curious how much the pattern changes with time, and how much variation there is between individuals.

    (not questioning the ID, as I am fairly face-blind, to the point where my neighbors’ 17YO kid I’v known since he was born changed hairstyle and I though their house was being burgled. I ID animals about as well as people, excluding a very few I know well)

  15. Glenda Palmer
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    The evidence is there!! Honey was back all along. What a top drawer ending to another season at Botany Pond.

  16. Dragon
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    It does clearly match. I see there is a small amount of additional darkening/shading in places.
    Congratulations on a successful feeding program.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Yeah, no doubt Katie is Honey. I like Honey’s name better too. 🙂

    If she’s come back two years in a row, I suspect she’ll be back again next year. She aint no dumb duck; she knows where to get plenty of good noms.

  18. Posted August 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    One of those inspirational poster designs could be:
    Honey 2020
    A Duck To Believe In

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    A one-evolutionary biologist shift in mallard population genetics. Who’da thunk it?

  20. Posted August 26, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad we unravelled that mystery! Both sides of her bill match!

    IIRC, one of the hens had a slight dent in the feathers at the back of the head, and I think this was Katie/Honey. I think this threw us off, but I’ve always suspected this was really Honey! Her bill was a bit lighter in the spring since naturally she was not able to eat much while brooding, and who knows how well or poorly she ate over the winter and during the migration back to Botany Pond. I’ve noticed the darkening of the spots over the summer months. (Of course it partly could be due to the shifting in light and the camera angles etc.)

    I hope the human Katie isn’t too disappointed about the name reversal.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Daphne (possibly Anna too) is Honey’s offspring. Daphne might be the shy Phoebe. But I’ll set that aside for now. 🙂 Enough excitement for one day!

    • Posted August 26, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      I am not going to inform the human Katie Peck of the real name of the duck. It was enough that the hen was known as “Katie” for most of the summer. There’s no point in conveying this information, which could be a wee bit disappointing.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted August 26, 2019 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Does she read WEIT? If so, she’ll know.

        If I were Anna, which of course I’m not, and Honey had been misidentified and named after me but now has her original name restored, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But as I noted, I’m not Anna, human or duck.

        • Posted August 26, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          I think the real Katie Peck is too busy to read WEIT, but if she does, she’ll find out the truth. It doesn’t matter, though; for most of the season the duck was named in her honor.

      • Posted August 26, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        The next mom could be Katie. I’m sure the real Katie would be thrilled that Honey is alive and thriving but I know what you mean.

  21. Posted August 26, 2019 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Nothing wrong at all in having a middle name: Honey Katie Coyne. (The alliteration of Honey “Kate” Coyne is appealing.) Hooray!

  22. JezGrove
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Great news. But does that mean that Gregory Peck (I’m proud to say that I suggested his name back in April, admittedly after a couple of false starts earlier in the thread) wasn’t unfaithful after all? It’s hard to keep up with the duck soap opera on Botany Pond – “Confused? You will be!”, as they used to say…!

  23. Andrea Kenner
    Posted August 26, 2019 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, papa!!!

  24. Posted August 28, 2019 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Do I get points for claiming this when she first appeared this year?


%d bloggers like this: