Monday, January 19, 2015

Splish! Splash!

Bathing for this pair of geese is a shared experience.

First a note to my readers:  For some reason unbeknownst to me, my last post "Watching Mallards:  Part II", didn't show up on blog reading lists, at least on some reading lists. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, a blog reader is something you sign up for and it alerts you when your favorite bloggers post.  If you went directly to my blog, you saw my last post.  If you use a reading list, you might not have.  You can see it by going to the blog archive just to the right of this text.

If I keep having problems I may just quit. It is discouraging to post and then wonder if anyone saw it or I may switch to another blog format.  I originally posted Part II on Jan 10, then I tried reposting on Jan 15.  It still didn't show up on the readers.  I finally dared ask a couple of my regulars if they had seen the post and they hadn't, but they could by going directly to

I'm going to be watching to see if this one posts properly..... and holding my breath.  I'll also be checking with a couple of my regulars to see if it shows up on their readers. 

Splish!  Splash!

Have you ever watched a bird take a bath?  I'm sure you've noticed it, but have you really watched.  Chickadees hit a puddle of water like an electric egg beater on overdrive.  They are a little like 7 year old boys who aren't about to spend a lot of time scrubbing.  Waterfowl seem to relish taking a bath, maybe because they are so comfortable in the water anyway.  It's a long, careful process. 

Yesterday I watched a pair of Canada geese bathing at our local pond for at least twenty minutes.  It could well have taken half an hour because at first I was stalking a Lincoln sparrow and I was barely aware of the geese.  
Goose feathers are strong!  They seem to be beating the water to death.  I once hand grabbed a wild goose at the duck pond because it had fish line caught on one leg.  We coaxed the goose close enough for me to grab ... and then I felt as though I was about to get thrashed to death. 
Sometimes its even hard to see the goose.
It amazes me that after all that splashing, he still looks dry.  Chickadees at least look like they fell overboard.  
And once the bath is over, they always seem ready for a good stretch and flap.  

Jan 20 ..... P.S. 
A friend may have enlightened me as to why I had problems with my last post.  I may have gotten censored because of two words in the text!  -- describing male and female duck anatomy.  I'm not sure, but it does sound like a logical explanation.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Watching Mallards: Part II

'Head up - tail up' -- one of several courting displays made by drake mallards to impress a hen.  She is low in the water.

This is a continuation of last week’s blog.  We’ll see if I can stay on subject this time! 

Most, if not all, ducks form their pair bonds during the winter.  When life is good they can often be found performing a variety of courtship displays far from their breeding grounds, sometimes as early as in September.  By the time they reach their nesting grounds, most of the pair bonds are formed.  Once the eggs are laid the drakes will leave their ladies to carry on alone or to go pick on another female.  Geese drakes stay with their families, but not ducks.

My photos were taken late December.  The mallards on our local duck pond have been all fired up, showing off several of the behaviors I’ve been reading about.   I don’t pretend to be an expert but many of my photos fitted perfectly with behaviors described.

I’ll start with the hen.  They have at least two behaviors designed to generate interest by the males.  One I didn’t catch:  the hen swims head up and displays by nodding her head back and forth.  But I did see the other several times.
Steaming:  Head low, the hen rushes through the water, sending nearby drakes into a frenzy of displaying.  Not many pair bonds have formed yet, so a handful of drakes vie for the hen’s attention, often all displaying at once.  The drake just beyond this hen is performing a ‘down-up.’  First he dips down and then he flicks water, usually towards the hen.  The drake in the upper right is doing a ‘grunt-whistle.’  He rears up, dropping his head in the process – that’s how I heard the whistling that first caught my attention (see last blog post).
Four drakes are surrounding another hen.  Often they end a display with a little steaming (head low the duck rushes through the water for a short distance – just like the hen) and if he is really lucky, the hen steams with him. 
 Another example of a ‘grunt – whistle.’
The introductory body Shake:  the male is trying to catch the hen’s attention by stretching his neck out and shaking his head ….  Remember the head is iridescent, so this might be quite striking from the hen’s point of view. 
Jump flight:  here a drake does a little short flight, trying to make himself stand out from the other drakes.  It is just a brief pop up out of the water.

When a hen is interested in a particular drake, she shows her interest by swinging her head to her side and dabbling her bill in the water.  The drake responds by pointing his bill away from her.

Once a pair bond has formed the two often take off on courtship flights that may last a few minutes.  When they land they perform the ‘pumping’ ritual.

Pumping:  a bonded pair face each other and pump their heads up and down.  Sometimes the pumping is in unison (both heads up, both heads down) and sometimes they alternate.  Copulation is usually preceded by pumping, but pumping doesn’t always mean they are going to copulate. 

Even though I spent about several hours photographing the ducks displaying I didn’t see any copulations.  I know breeding starts long before they reach the breeding grounds, but the mallards I was watching hadn’t done much pair bonding yet. 

And speaking of breeding, I was really surprised at what I learned during my fact finding.  This may be more than you ever wanted to know on the subject  -- but it is fascinating. 

97% of male birds don’t have a penis, but ducks and geese often breed in the water and have the necessary equipment.  I didn’t find any figures for mallards, but the penis of various duck species is a corkscrew appendage ranging from a few inches to over a foot.  Furthermore the penis propels itself in a moment upon contact with the female.  Meanwhile the female has a long curving vagina.  She is fairly successful at thwarting the sperm of unwanted males and allowing passage of the sperm from her mate.  So, even though it is reported that up to a third of duck mating would be considered rape, only 3 % of the ducklings come from these unions.  If you want to see more about breeding, just Google the subject.
These two appear to have made their choice.