Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Duck Armada

Several weeks ago I wrote about the mother mallard duck who ushered seven little ones to the lake edge to feast on snails. Momma duck is still bringing the kids around; now there are six. I’ll never know if number seven chose to go it on his own, or if he is no more.
The youngsters have grown to teenage size or at least, they are young adults. They are almost as large as momma. The only clue that they are not full grown mallards is that they are entirely brown. Only momma duck sports the lovely blue chevron—the hallmark of a mallard—on her wings, and none of them have the striking green head of the full grown male mallard.  I’ve read that normally, there will be more males than females in a duck population; maybe I’ll start seeing green in a few weeks.
The ducks are still gulping down snails, and I wonder how the snail population will ever recover from their daily repasts. I am still astonished to see – first the snail in a ducks beak, as he snaps it open and shut to adjust the shell toward the back of his mouth,  and then the lump in his throat as the snail goes down. I can’t imagine how any-creature could be comfortable with a tummy full of snails—in shells!
I found the on-line Princeton Science Library, “A Natural History of Shells” that says “The prey is swallowed, enveloped, or smothered without damage to the shell; the flesh is then slowly digested before the empty shell is expelled…Shell destruction after swallowing also occurs in the gizzard of the ducks.”

 In the afternoons the entire duck population of the lake now gathers to socialize. An armada of 15 ducks cruises together, their wakes trailing multiple V formations. 
I wonder if they’re drilling for the time, in the fall, when they will depart the lake as a group and head for a warmer clime. Four males travel nearby; they don’t seem interested in traveling with the flock. Are they old timers? Been there. Done that?

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