Ducklings are Fun!

Mallard Duckling in Olympic National Park, Washington
Mallard Duckling in Olympic National Park, Washington. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Late spring and early summer can be a frustrating time for birding given the relatively low avian diversity, the bugs, and the traffic headaches/low-quality encounters as the Summer People emerge from their pods. But there are ducklings around! And ducklings are fun!

Several things always strike me about ducklings (besides how cute they are). First, they face some significant challenges . . . such as being on a lot of menus.

Muscovy Ducklings in Hermann Park, Houston, Texas
Muscovy Ducklings in Hermann Park, Houston, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS. Natural light.

I remember as a child in Minnesota being horrified to learn that muskellunge (a type of large aggressive pike known to Midwesterners as “muskies”) eat ducklings. I remember standing on a dock and staring down into the water and seeing a bunch of these black and green striped killers on a stringer and thinking no more ducklings for you! Down here in Texas it’s alligators, snapping turtles, gar . . . and rat snakes. There’s no question about it, wild ducklings live in a dangerous world.

Another striking thing about wild ducklings is that many species look so much alike. Domestic ducklings, like Call Ducklings, are often all yellow, but sometimes show a variety of black markings. Apparently being yellow with black stripes and blotches makes for a perfect duckling in a wilderness setting.

A dark-colored top (with some disruptive stripes or spots) may camouflage the ducklings from predators from above, while the brightly-colored underside may not be as visible to aquatic predators viewing them from below against the sky. In any case, a counter-shaded black and yellow pattern certainly makes for a perfectly charming wild duckling.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck family at Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Family at Elm Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

I think it would be terrific if everybody was alike.—Andy Warhol

©2014 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.