Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring, an Unknown Entity in New York City -- What Will it Bring to our Waterfowl?

Jessie -- Canada goose survivor of loss and hard knocks.
Dominant goose family at Harlem Meer peers over the lay of the land.
"Romeo," the love sick drake tagging behind his lady love, Wiggly. Honker, another female domestic duck along for the ride.  
Connor, Cochise, Connie and Carol. Four domestic ducks abandoned last November have made it through the winter with non-flying feathers.
 
The calendar may say "spring" but yesterday we had snow in New York City and the temperatures are not predicted to get out of the 30's and 40's for nearly the rest of the month.

Despite a colder-than-normal winter in New York, I am happy to say (once again) that all personally known ducks, geese and one swan made it through the challenging times with nary a feather out of place.

Cochise, Conner, Connie and Carol, the four domestic ducks abandoned to Harlem Meer last November apparently took their cues from the other ducks present, learned quickly and are now the epitomes of health, vibrance and alertness.

Wiggly and Honker, the other two (female) domestic ducks at the Meer for more than a year still continue to play a lead role in showing others what to do when the going gets rough. 

Wiggly is mostly a quiet and unassuming leader. However, her position is well known and respected among her peers, most notably, a mallard drake who for some months has followed Wiggly around like a love sick puppy. 

Even when the lake nearly entirely froze over in January and all the other mallards temporarily vacated, "Romeo" stayed behind to be with his lady love and aid her in keeping open water.  

For her part, Wiggly mostly ignores the romantic pursuits of her passionate suitor, but she is not hostile or rejecting of them.  "Whatever" seems to be her attitude -- at least for the moment.

It will however, be interesting to see what happens when the bitter cold finally departs and thoughts of the wildlife turn to love.  

Will Wiggly finally start to notice and reciprocate the attentions and devotion of her relentless Romeo or will she push him away? 

They are after all, "ducks of a different feather."

So far, no domestic ducks observed over the years have successfully hatched or raised ducklings.  It appears they don't know how to nest and protect eggs in the wild.  

But, perhaps things may be different this year?

Romeo is certainly one determined duck who doesn't seem to take "no" for an answer. But, in the end, it will all be left up to Wiggly. I am not sure she wants to take on the role of motherhood yet.  Any ducklings produced with a mallard would be hybrids and their survival would be doubtful.  I am not sure they could even fly as Wiggly cannot.

As for Conner, Cochise, Connie and Carol, (the other domestics) they are already paired up and tightly knit. But, it is one thing to survive in the wild.  It is another to successfully raise young -- especially in a heavily human and dog used park during warm weather.

I don't expect to see ducklings from them, but who knows?  So far, these four "barn" ducks have proven themselves to be extremely smart and resilient, so perhaps anything is possible.

Despite the survival of all known geese, ducks and one swan over the winter, there is one goose who did not have an easy time of it.

That is Jessie, the "loner" goose discovered at the Meer in December who apparently lost her mate or family.

For some weeks, Jessie continued to wait and search,  often "calling out" in the water or along the embankment.  But as the weather became more hostile and it was clear Jessie was not going to be reunited with her lost flockmate(s), she eventually was compelled to "tag along" with a new goose family.  Unfortunately, the lead gander of the chosen family was (and is) quite the task master and is not known for warm and fuzzy acceptance of new flock members.

Jessie has the scars and missing feathers to show for her (so far) hard life.  She is the low goose on the totem pole and has to put up with almost constant chasing, pecking and harassment from the others, particularly the lead gander.

But, as the weather warms, the lead gander will eventually "kick the kids out of the nest" (and is already showing signs of that) to again be solely with his mate.

It is hoped that at that time Jessie can eventually know some peace and acceptance by either staying with the younger, unpaired geese (who are not so combative) or if old enough, finding a new mate.

Much remains to be seen.

So, as old man winter prepares to begrudgingly leave and the hormones of spring begin to kick in, there are changes that will inevitably come.

My hope is that they will be the kind of changes associated with new life and renewal and not those too often associated with spring and summers in New York City -- Goose massacres and waterfowl injuries due to discarded fishing lines and barbed hooks.

Spring, an unknown and often forbidding entity in New York City.  -- PCA
                                                                       


                             *******

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