We live in an area that has several small ponds, so our neighborhood seems to be a magnet for mallards. In fact, every spring, they go waddling back and forth across a main road, and every year, we see several very flat mallards that didn’t make it across.
Photo by Andreas Trepte, Marburg http://foto.andreas-trepte.de/
So, that sighting reminded me of a mallard episode several springs back. We had a pair of mallards that would stroll through our yard. Since we have an in-ground pool, which at this time of the year is not open, and since the winter cover collects water, mallards think we have a pond. We don’t. So each year, we run out and shoo them away. Finally, we got a fake owl, and several spinner kites and that seems to dissuade the mallards from using our pool cover.
Anyway, this pair kept coming back. She had a distinctive bill, some kind of injury actually, because there was a piece out of it. He was a normal glossy green mallard. And every day, they would be trailed by two or three other males who were without mates.
One day, it finally happened. One of the other males won out over the male in the pair, and displaced him. Now, the new couple strolled by. The female was totally oblivious; seemingly one male mallard was as good as another to her. But the displaced male was disconsolate.
He kept coming back to our yard, looking around the pool. He would walk around slowly, seemingly searching for his lost mate. He would mournfully say—quack, quack. Now, that may seem funny, but honestly he seemed sad.
Then one day, the new couple came back—and the lost male arrived too. Show down. He kept feinting toward the winning male, trying to distract and possibly displace him. The new male was very aggressive and drove off the unlucky suitor. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went running out and tried to help the losing male. I know! I know! Bad biology, bad science, bad wildlife management, bad everything. But I felt so sorry for him. Of course, my efforts went for naught, as the loser stayed the loser.
Photo by Alan D. Wilson, http://www.naturespicsonline.com/
Now you know why I don’t work directly with wildlife. You also know why I can’t watch certain kinds of Animal Kingdom stories—the kind that shows the victorious lion or leopard or hyena or whatever predator bring down the little antelope. I am rooting for the antelope. I don’t want the lions et al to starve. And I am not a vegetarian myself—I too am a predator, just a little more removed from my food source.
Thankfully, the triumphant mallard pair disappeared soon after that. Maybe they thought—we’re not sticking around where that crazy human lives. However, I did see the female the next spring—with her misshapen bill. And a male, but which one (or a new one altogether) I don’t know.