Monday, May 05, 2008

Duke Ducks: Part 1 - Muscovy Duck

To begin making due on a recent promise, I am posting about ducks in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Today's entry will focus on Muscovy Ducks.

My immediate thought when I first encountered the Muscovy Ducks was that they were one of the ugliest waterfowl I had ever seen. Just to give you an idea, here is a picture of what I deem to be the "alpha male" of the tribe that lives at the Duke Gardens in May of 2007.

They are rather large (for birds) and tend to stick together (at least the ones at the Duke Gardens do). This led me to the idea that they reminded me somewhat of cattle—flying, swimming cattle. I continued observing them on my daily walks. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I encountered their reproductive habits (not a pretty sight). Those grotesque acts eventually led to a couple of groups of the following.

There were some mornings that I would see a mother duck with her ducklings outside of the gardens right beside a busy road. This led me to another strong conclusion—these are stupid, ugly birds. Despite my initial negative feelings, I was intrigued and eventually enamored.

Soon after starting work at Duke, a coworker had told me that there was a large population of snapping turtles in the main pond. This spells trouble for small, weak animals, such as ducklings. So I was somewhat saddened when my counts of the ducklings decreased as the weeks passed. One week, I did not count any from one group that I had been watching. So it was quite a surprise that they showed back up a couple of weeks later, must larger. I figure that they had been in another part of the gardens that I rarely visited.

One of their favorite spots to roost was the Monet-esque bridge at the northern end of the pond.

Later on I saw some new ducks that had markings similar to the Muscovy Ducks. It turns out that "farm" ducks are the domesticated form of Muscovy and because of breeding, certain distinguishing features (the ugly red nose) are lost. The three ducklings shown above grew up into these:

Despite my initial misgivings, these ducks came to be one of my favorites. They are easy-going. Smaller species are more apt to be able to push them out of the way for food. They stick together and generally stay away from other ducks. It is unfortunate, that Amy and I have not come in contact with them in our recent visits.

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