Monday, March 26, 2007

Tale of Three Mallards

Just as I was driving into my neighborhood this afternoon, I saw a mallard male hanging around by a tiny puddle. I was hoping to run back to the spot, and get a photo of him, but he was gone by the time I got back. I will have to learn how to slam on the brakes and jump out for the photo a la this!

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

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,

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.


Laurie said...

I root for the antelope too.

Body Soul Spirit said...

Your story is so "human", and I see you cheering for the losers in life. Today on my noon hour walk I saw a hawk swoop and get a squirrel right beside me. I felt sorry for the squirrel, but then, I am like the hawk when I eat meat.

Mary said...

Donna, you are not the only human that would interfere. You described me. And yes, I am all for the antelope and usually switch the TV channel before the attack.

I still cringe when I remember a hawk carrying away a dove...

LauraO said...

I enjoyed your mallard story and probably would have done the same thing. I'm always rooting for the underdog - and anything with floppy ears. It's nice the female returned and you could recognize her.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna - I read this post eagerly as I am such a bird lover!!! I too can not watch those lion attack shows but the more I am around true nature - the more I have to try to understand it-it is hard not to interfere - I struggle with this daily, and what is the correct way to interfere in some wildlife situations we end up in??? I think we now are the stewards of all wildlife and must act in ways to preserve them as we have destroyed their natural environment.

Pam said...

Great story, I don't know what I would have done, but know my sympathy is with the looser.

Pam said...

Great story, I don't know what I would have done, but know my sympathy is with the looser.

Cathy said...

I love it. You're an old softy like me. I'd have probably done the same thing all the while chiding myself about as you said "Bad biology, bad science, bad wildlife management, bad everything." Maybe. But I choose to think: 'good' you.