Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brave Little Duck

Good news and bad news on Chrissy, the crippled mallard at Harlem Meer.
The good news is that she can fly normally (at least for short distance).
The bad news is I discovered this by watching her chased and ruthlessly attacked by a mallard drake last night.
The scene was unnerving to say the least. The irony is that it came upon the heals of me feeling very pleased with Chrissy's progress and moxie.
Chrissy was one of the first ducks to climb the embankment last night and greet me.  Seemingly proud of herself for being able to walk a few steps, she bravely pulled herself forward and held her head high.
When other ducks arrived, Chrissy flopped down and was seemingly crushed under an avalanche of feathers and mallard bodies.
But, the little lame mallard held her own and managed to grab a good amount of seed.
And when Chrissy wasn't swooping from the ground, she gratefully ate from my hand.
Such a brave little duck! I thought.
It is truly extraordinary the way this disabled and frequently picked upon mallard has managed to endure what is at times, a very harsh environment.
When at last, Chrissy had filled her belly and began her difficult struggle to slowly walk and return to the lake, she was rudely pounced upon by a very aggressive drake.
The drake shoved Chrissy into the water and then continued to chase and push her. Unable to escape the drake's attacks in the water, Chrissy finally took to the air. But, even then he followed her.
The two ducks ascended over the lake and quickly flew towards the western portion, to the point I lost sight of them.
Worried sick and unable to get the image out of my head, I delayed my planned exit from Harlem Meer in hopes of finding Chrissy again or that she would return on her own.
I walked around a bit, but could not discern Chrissy in the water among the other female mallards.
I recalled a park ranger once telling me that the drakes sometime gang up on and kill female mallards!
I don't know if that is actually true, but for certain, the drakes can be very rough on the females.
Would an already compromised and weakened female mallard be able to survive a particularly aggressive attack from a bigger and stronger drake?
I returned to the feeding area where mallards and "The Bradley Brigade" were polishing off what remained of the seeds.
As I stood there hoping that Chrissy would return, a family of five geese joined the scene.
But, what I assume to be migratory geese appeared to show up more for curiosity than any need or desire for actual treat. 
The goose family stood regally and aloofly at the edge of the lake and mostly observed both the ducks and me.
After a short while, apparently satisfied that there was no danger or threat, the five geese returned to the lake and leisurely swam away.
And then I noticed the little brown mallard stationed at the edge of the water looking up at me.
It was Chrissy!
Hugely relieved that Chrissy had finally managed to escape the drake and that she was OK, I scrambled in my bag for any remaining seeds and tossed them to her.  Once again, Chrissy raised her head and opened her mouth wide like a baby bird waiting for mama to feed her!   
It is so cute when Chrissy does that and indeed it is something I have never seen another mallard do.   Then again, eating from human hands is something most mallards don't do either.   The only other duck who does this is Brad.   As much as Brad's two charges, Piggly and Wiggly know me by now, neither of them eats from my hand.
Ducks generally are more cautious in trusting humans than geese are.  I am not sure of the reason for that, but quite frankly its better for them to be wary.  Hand-feeding is something I generally don't encourage in waterfowl except under very special circumstances -- like Chrissy now and Brad in the past.
Buster, the lead "resident" Canada goose of Harlem Meer also eats from my hand of course.  But, it wasn't me who conditioned him for that.  Buster was already well schooled in gently eating from human hands long before he made my acquaintance. My guess is that Buster was likely hatched in one of the city parks and learned to eat from human hands as a very young gosling.
Meanwhile, the hormone-driven drakes continued to do battle last night, sometimes going head-to-head with each other, sometimes chasing the females and in one case, even butt pecking Brad!
Brad, looking very surprised by the unprovoked attack simply moved away from the cantankerous drake and rounded up Piggly and Wiggly.  The three domestic ducks then hautilly returned to the lake, Brad and Piggly chattering away to each other.   "Man, these mallards are really a pain in the spring!  Time to move on from this craziness!"
And so resigned to the fact that most of the ducks will no longer "escort" me out of the Meer during these hormone-driven times, I finally gathered my two dogs last night and began to make my way out on my own.
But, as I approached the lake's end near one of the exits of Harlem Meer, there was one little brown mallard following me in the water.
It was Chrissy!
And once again, she looked at me and opened her mouth from the water.
But, this time, it was simply to say "Goodnight" and perhaps issue a thanks for looking out for her.
"Sweet and brave little girl!  But, go back and join your buddies now. Every duck needs her flock no matter how difficult they are at times."
As I left the Meer, Chrissy began to slowly make her way back.
I have never personally rescued a duck.
But, if ever there is one I someday crazily pick up and bring home, it will probably be Chrissy.
She has truly "gotten" to me more than on simply observational level. -- PCA

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