(Photos: New arrivals at Harlem Mere over past week. But, the suspicion is that the five new ducks are not part of normal fall migrations.)
As any birder will tell you, this is an exciting time of the year due to the fall migrations.
Many flocks of northern birds pass through and often stop in New York City. Sometime they stop for brief rest or in the case of waterfowl, until such time lakes and ponds might freeze over and they are forced to fly further south.
Since hurricane Sandy packed a wallop to New York City two weeks ago and left, scores of new ducks, Canada geese and even one swan have arrived to Harlem Mere.
A little more than a week ago, I noticed a flock of four very unusual and large ducks gliding along the water at the Mere.
Two were a very pretty light golden color and two were black with white markings. I presumed them to be two males and two females of the same breed. But, I had no idea what kind of birds they actually were. They could in fact, even be geese of some unusual breed type.
But, over the past two nights, I have gotten a closer and better look at the new arrivals.
And I am not sure now that they are "wild" migratory birds at all.
On the contrary, due to the short (clipped?) wings, I believe them to be domestic breeds of ducks (or geese).
As noted in this journal over the years, it is not unusual to find domestic (flightless) ducks at Harlem Mere and other parts of Central Park.
But, obviously, these ducks did not fly into the park on their own.
People have to put and leave them there.
A couple of years ago, I was told by a park ranger that virtually all the turtles at Turtle Pond are abandoned pets that apparently grew too big for their tanks and human caregivers.
But, one suspects the domestic ducks in our parks are not so much the result of "pets growing too big," as much as they might actually be "rescues" from live poultry markets around the city.
Apparently, some well meaning people believe the birds have a far greater chance at survival in a public park than they do a cage at a live poultry market.
They are undoubtedly correct in that belief as the evidence shows.
It is in fact, quite remarkable how quickly the domestic ducks (or geese) figure out their situation and learn to "adapt" to the unusual and challenging circumstances of the outdoors.
But, one has to wonder about the long range impacts upon environment and wild waterfowl, should the domestic ducks ever figure out how to nest, protect eggs and raise young?
It could open up a whole new chapter in the "invasive species" dialogue.
So far, I have not seen nesting of domestic waterfowl actually occur. The one instance of noting one of the domestic ducks apparently drop an egg in open grass, she (Wiggly) didn't seem to know what to do with it.
But, what if the domestic ducks actually do figure out successful reproduction eventually?
The fact that the domestics ducks are larger than wild ducks and some are bred to be "proficient egg layers" could create some interesting dynamics in our city parks.
Finally, one has to question the wisdom of dropping off domestic ducks in a park just prior to winter setting in.
We know that the wild mallards and geese develop heavy down and winter feathers to get them through the toughest days of January and February.
But, are domestic ducks and geese (bred for "meat" or egg production) blessed with such bounty?
So far, I have personally noted domestic ducks being able to survive winter in NYC.
But, I am not so confident about the birds dropped off just prior to the season actually beginning. "Nature" will have to work quickly to prepare these birds for the rough days ahead.
If I am not absolutely positive about the flock of four new ducks at the Mere actually being domestic, I am almost dead certain, the new white duck observed last night is a domestic duck (or goose) rescued from a live poultry market.
Wild ducks and geese almost never appear this dirty and scruffy.
And, once again, the wings appear to be small and clipped.
The fact the duck was alone without any flock, also suggests a bird that was "placed" in the environment as opposed to flying in.
I am not confident about the white duck's chances for survival over the winter -- unless s/he is able to get an "in" with one of the established domestic flocks -- perhaps the newest one.
All of this makes one wonder sometimes, "What are people thinking?"
Was the reason for dropping these birds off during normal fall migrations, the belief that the birds would then "blend in" with all the other newcomers? (That was, after all, my initial assumption when first noticing the flock of four newcomers.)
But, there is something that always sets the domestic ducks and geese apart from their wild cousins.
That is the fact the wild birds can fly and the domestics can't.
We have to hope that there are enough geese and ducks at Harlem Mere this winter to help maintain open water and prevent the lake from entirely freezing over.
We have to hope we don't get a winter like 2010 when the Mere became a nearly solid block of ice and all the wild mallards and geese left. It was a huge and constant struggle for the then two domestic ducks (Brad and Angelina) to survive. They literally had to swim 24/7 in a tiny, bath tub sized pool of water to keep it open.
The now 7 domestic ducks at Harlem Mere will not have the option of leaving when the going gets tough. They too, would have to learn to frantically swim, dunk and dive nearly 24/7 in order to maintain any open water should a tough winter be around the corner.
Let us hope it doesn't come to that. -- PCA