She likes ducks. That’s how my kids might introduce me, “This is my Mom, she likes ducks.” It’s true, I do like most waterfowl and during this time of year who isn’t captivated by the antics of baby ducks? I call this the gleeful season, because watching fluffy balls of newly hatched offspring is joyful, and yet, so humorous that I can’t think of a better word to describe the feeling than glee. Quick, follow mom! No, dash after that insect! No, scamper back to see what that was in the grass. Whoops…where’s mom? Trip, fall, jump up, find the flock. Each duckling seems like a possible candidate for the Attention Deficit Disorder poster child; their behavior so erratic and different from mama duck, whose slow deliberate movements and focused attention suggest a knowledge of the dangers lying in wait for her young brood.
Ducks hatch, on average, seven to twelve ducklings and their survival is not only threatened by predators, but also on the abundance and quality of local wetlands. Shallow wetlands that spawn and support rich insect and snail populations supply an instant food source for precocious ducklings that hatch ready to feed. Ducklings must have this supply of protein rich insects in order to survive their first few weeks of life. Early precipitation that allow for a mosaic of neighboring, shallow wetlands increase survival, but once the ducklings are hatched, inclement weather, such as heavy rain, wind and cold, tip the balance and survival rates drop. Survival rate for ducklings is so dependent upon weather and the resultant hydrology patterns of wetlands that survival rates can fluctuate wildly from 10% to 70%. (Ducks Unlimited, Dr. Brian Davis, May/June 2009)
The key is having enough rain to support the wetlands and ensuing insect populations, but not so much rain that ducklings are kept close to mom for warmth, preventing them from nibbling up the protein they need.
Although we had an atypical winter, the North Creek wetlands seem to be sporting plenty of wet mudflats and insects. The last few days have been balmy and mild, ideal for raising a young brood. Although I’ve seen a couple young Canadian Geese families, I have yet to see my first bunch of new ducklings, but surely it is that time of year and perhaps today will be the opening day of the gleeful season.