Each year I learn more about the mallard ducks which summer at my favorite lake.
In early spring I’ve seen male-female pairs. Then, by June, it’s usual to see a few males paddling about together—what my husband calls, “boys’ night out.” Later in the season, we’re more likely to see several females accompanied by a group of youngsters; males nowhere in sight. I figure the guys believe their job is done until it’s time to return and get the whole flock ready to migrate. A little research informed me that all ducks molt their flying feathers during the nesting period; they cannot fly for three to four weeks! And there are usually more male ducks than females. This is definitely true this year.
Two weeks ago I saw three male mallards, sun glinting off their handsome green heads, cruising the lake together. I saw no females and figured they were keeping a low profile because the kids were probably quite young.
This week, at first I saw no male ducks and thought they might have left the lake already. Then I discovered seven males sitting on a dock with two females—while one female was taking seven adorable ducklings out for lunch.
The area by our dock was especially attractive to them because the grass slopesgradually down to the water. There’s some lake weed where teensy fish hang out, as well as small black snails. I’d seen adult ducks eating the snails; thought that they must crack the shells with their beaks to get the snail, though it did appear that they swallowed them shell and all. Google research confirms that ducks eat snails whole! The thought gives me a stomach ache.
The female babysitter—a duck site confirms that sometimes one adult will watch all the kids—had no fear of us. She simply kept watch as the babies fed, dipping, or rather ducking, bottoms up, in the shallows. Some were brave enough to dive for a snail when they were in 18 inch-deep water. We were only two yards away, watching the little ones down snail after snail – whole!
Besides the ducks, our lake has always been home to a pair of swans. They nest at the far end of the lake and, I’m told, though there have been eggs, they rarely raise a cygnet to adulthood because of predators. But they must have succeeded last year, because there are now two pairs of adult swans at the far end of the lake. They grace us with their presence, gliding to our end about once each day.