For several weeks now, my wife and I have been privileged to observe and enjoy the antics of a family of seven ducks. About the middle of April, two adult ducks splashed down on the small developer-dug lake behind our Florida home. At first, I thought they were black ducks but, after checking in a book on birds, I learned that these range further north. I now identify them as mottled ducks, whose habitat is mainly in coastal Florida. Males and females display no differences that we can discern from a distance. Unlike mallards, these seem to have no special coloring to distinguish the gender. In fact, both sexes appear similar to the female mallard, but with slightly lighter plumage.

From our screened rear porch, we would watch them every day, as they slowly paddled around the lake. They seemed to be coming and going from a wooded house lot that has yet to be cleared, a short distance away from our rather new home. We live in a development that is nearing completion, and disturbed bird life is rapidly returning to the area. On any given day, we see egrets, ibises, wood storks, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, anhingas, and a wide variety of smaller birds like hummingbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, mourning doves and the like. Recently, we had a few day’s visit from a plump and colorful Bob White that cheerfully and repeatedly introduced itself.

About three weeks ago, the adult ducks presented us with a float parade of their four newly hatched ducklings, each about the size of a clenched fist. Slowly, around the lake the family paddled, ducklings always close to one or the other parent’s side, apparently receiving protection and instruction from both. This became a daily event, and we looked forward to seeing the ducks grow, while perfecting dunking and paddling under their parent’s watchful tutelage.

Then, for a few days, there was no appearance, and we worried that an owl or other predator had attacked the family in the night. We also have bobcats in the neighboring woods. To date, no alligator has been spotted in the lake, but some night one will, no doubt, make its way from the nearby river, up the creek that flows though our community, or from one of the water traps on the adjacent golf course. Rather large turtles are already in residence.

Yesterday it was raining and the entire duck family reappeared, with a fifth, presumably newly hatched duckling, now in attendance. That momentous event likely explained their brief absence. This day they headed further down the lake, so we couldn’t really tell how much the other ducklings had grown, even using binoculars. We were delighted to find them still healthy, however. Then, today, another rainy day, one of the adult ducks, the mother most likely, led her five offspring in our direction. We were astonished to see how much larger the orignal four ducklings were, having almost doubled in size. The second adult duck was nowhere to be seen.

Gathering the young ducks in a group, the adult led them all around in the grass at lake side. They’d already become proficient swimmers, and today it seems they were getting a walking lesson. Or rather a “waddling” lesson. I got my camera out and snapped a couple of shots of the family taking its stroll, the runt of the litter playing catch-up.

Next, after we turned away for a moment, we noted that the adult had disappeared and the ducklings were left assembled in a closely gathered group at the water’s edge. For several minutes they remained clustered that way. Then, as if signaled, one by one, they entered the lake and, in tandem, began paddling across, to a point where the adult duck waited. All five traversed the lake, swimming without escort for the first time. Clearly, the parent was teaching them to become independent. This, too, explained the absence of the second adult. The father was probably watching from the high grass near their nesting area, ready to wing his way to their side if trouble threatened.

It won’t be long before the ducklings reach that stage when they will be able to fend for themselves. We wait now for the ducklings to test their ability to fly, and wonder if that will be a fairwell flight. My wife and I hope the ducklings will remember from whence they came, and visit us often, perhaps to start their own families. We’ll keep the binoculars close at hand.



 

© By RickMack (Rmrickmack@aol.com)

 

 




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