Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do Ducks (Or Geese) Ever Get Depressed?

As day is to night or summer is to winter or health is to illness, that was the marked difference last night at Harlem Meer compared to the liveliness and "avian celebration" of the Memorial Day weekend.
Arriving at the Meer shortly after the sun had set last night, there was an eeriness and almost deathly quiet around the lake.
Only two mallards sat motionless on the south bank of the watercourse (the place where most of the mallards and geese, when there, usually gather at night). 
The male and female mallards barely looked up as I passed with my dogs.  They were not interested in any treats, nor particularly engaged in anything going on around them.
Not that there was anything happening to get excited or engaged about.
I sat with my dogs for a while on a nearby park bench trying to make out if I could see any ducks or geese on the lake.  But, I couldn't.
The lake appeared like a sullen, dark pool of motionless ink with little signs of life upon it.
Looking again at the seemingly spiritless mallards in front of me, I wondered to myself if mallards ever get depressed?   If so, I seemed to be looking at it.
Feeling a sense of deflation myself, I decided to walk around the entire lake to see if I could find Bozo and Bonnie (or any geese, for that matter), the mama mallard, "Jillian" (and her four tiny ducklings) or even Brad and Angelina, the power duck couple of Harlem Meer.
But, everywhere that my dogs and I walked it was the same thing.
Empty water edges and eerie silence on the water.
Peering out into the darkness, I could barely make out what appeared to be perhaps a few mallards and even two geese seemingly hiding in the middle of the lake.
The birds were like statues on the water, barely moving at all.   I wasn't in fact sure I was seeing geese or ducks, but rather, imagining some sort of mirage.
Having walked around almost the entire Meer, I finally found Brad and Angelina, the two flightless ducks, quietly huddled on some grass at the east side of the lake. -- A hidden location I have very rarely seen them in the past.
They too, seemed unusually quiet and guarded.  As I approached the two ducks to toss some treats, they carefully retreated as if not knowing or fully trusting me.
I have rarely seen these two, usually extremely lively and spirited ducks behave in such skittish, cautious fashion.  -- Especially with me who Brad and Angelina know for almost two years.
Something was very, very "off" and strange last night at the Meer. 
I suddenly felt I was in the Twilight Zone.
Not wanting to stress them any further, I walked away from BrAdgelina, but found myself wondering the same thought when seeing the first two mallards:  Do ducks ever get depressed?   Once again, I felt I had just looked at it.
Still hoping to see some sign of the mama mallard and her ducklings, I peered out to the lake once again.
It seemed I could clearly make out this time, what appeared to be two goose silhouettes in the distance.   They were in the same location in the middle of the lake, where Bozo and Bonnie usually are.
"Bozo!"  "Is that you, Bozo?"
But, if the two geese were in fact, Bozo and Bonnie and if he saw or heard me, Bozo made no motions to either come and stalk my dogs or see me.
Instead, he remained very close to his mate, neither goose moving at all on the water.
And so, like the few ducks or geese I saw, I too felt a sense of dispiritedness and deflation.
What could have happened between Monday night and last night (Wednesday) to cause such a seemingly dramatic and foreboding change?
Monday night there were ten lively geese at the lake, along with almost 25 mallards (including the mama and her four ducklings). Most of the birds had cheerfully congregated at the south lake bank and were engaged in all kinds of posturing and oneupsman-ship kind of games.  As described the next day, it was like being at some lively and grand, "avian party."
But, obviously the party soon ended.
Last night, it was more like some kind of funeral atmosphere than any "party."
I never in fact, found the mama mallard and ducklings who presumably must have been hiding in some marshes or high weeds.
And if I saw the footloose and fancy free, Bozo at all, he remained steadfastly by his mate on the water like he was guarding the crown jewels -- or afraid that some kind of huge, "Cujo" dog was about to attack them.
 I would like to think or say to myself that the small gaggle of geese who flew in over the weekend to annoy Bozo or celebrate the holiday weekend, were "stopovers." -- i.e. Geese on their way to someplace else that stop briefly at a location to rest or graze.
But, this is not the migratory season and I am quite sure that the geese at the Meer over the weekend were Central Park "regulars" who are familiar with both the location and the heavy human traffic at the Meer during the warm weather.
In fact, I even considered that five of the geese might have been the grown goslings from Turtle Pond.  Two of them confidently ate from my hand on Monday night.
Judging however, from the very unusual and guarded, evasive behavior observed last night  from the few ducks I saw, I could only equate it to some type of "trauma." 
Like that associated with goose harassment programs.
Apparently, ten geese and a couple of dozen mallards on a large lake were "too many." 
And, apparently too, the idea is to chase whatever geese are at Central Park to some more remote location where they will be rounded up and gassed in a few weeks by the USDA.
As for the few ducks and geese who steadfastly remained on the lake either due to inability to fly (Brad and Angelina) or simple stubbornness and resiliency, (Bozo and Bonnie) it was more than apparent that they were trying to be invisible.
Do mallards (or geese) ever get depressed?
Indeed they do. 
Especially when terrorized or made to feel unwelcomed.  -- PCA


Laura B. said...

We own a bunch of lovely chickens and, more recently, an adult duck, a baby duck and baby goose.

Our babies were best friends, always hanging around each other. Well, little Ducky got sick and passed away unexpectedly. Goosey is so darn depressed right now and I can't help but
hope that she'll be able to move on.

The same happened with our old rooster, Chiquito. We were taking care of a young doberman, a gift from my sister, and we had hoped it would learn from our older dogs that you don't touch our piultry. As it turns out, he wasn't going to just let the birds be. He ended up killing (and later eating) Chiquito's many hens. Chiquito was always able to dissuade the dog by attacking with his talons or pecking his eyes, but once his hens (who weren't capable of protecting themselves, seeing as they were some heavy broilers that were a little slow because of their weight) were gone, he let the dog get him.

I often wish that people understood more about the nature of birds. Disrupting their lives negatively can be so destructive to their calm dispositions that it's bordering on cruel. I feel horrible that a city would do such a thing to an undeserving community of birds.

I guess I'm lucky that I live in South Texas. With our place on many bird species' migratory map, our community survives on birding, which protects our local birds and migratory birds.

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