It has been cold and rainy since Thursday. When I woke up Sunday morning, it was snow-raining. Ugh. Four hours later, at 11 am, it was still snow-raining. Big whine: but we’re in the second half of May! If I had been in a reasonable mood, I could have engaged in one of many entertaining and/or productive indoor activities but… I. Wanted. To. Go. Outside!!!
Ducks don’t mind snow-rain so I headed to the pond by the Children’s Hospital, one of the best birding spots within a 30 minute walk of my home. When I got there, the male Red-winged Blackbirds were belting out their songs as usual and the 16 goslings and 4 Canada Goose parents were merrily eating grass. And a female Common Goldeneye was swimming and diving with a disorderly crew of little brown and white fluff-balls! The somewhat copious snow-rain had dissuaded me from bringing my camera, so I contented myself with simply watching the fluff-balls and other pond birds. My inclement weather mopiness dissipated and a sense of ease and joy took its place. A marvelous new bird flew out of some bushes and onto the pond’s little island. And an American Coot in the distance had a beak that was much too large. Could it be a…??? I was definitely coming back with my camera after lunch.
The snow-rain had now turned to a gentle rain. I rushed home for lunch, hot chocolate and dry clothes. Around 2 pm, no concentric circles were forming in the street’s water puddles. Time to go back!
On my return visit, I succeeded in photographing the ducklings, the marvelous bird and the “not-a-coot” and his brown mate. But this post is just about the ducklings and their mother.
There were 7 ducklings. From behind, they remind me a bit of ladybugs.
On both my visits, the Goldeneye mother and ducklings had the northeast side of the pond to themselves. The mother repeatedly dove under the surface in search of food. The ducklings fed by surface dabbling and occasionally dove underwater for about a second.
According to Birds of North America, Common Goldeneyes are cavity nesters. They build nests in tree cavities. The male abandons the female 1 or 2 weeks after the start of incubation. The female incubates the eggs throughout the night but will leave the nest unattended to forage for food during the day. The number and duration of foraging trips varies – researchers have observed 1-7 daily trips with an average duration of 40-140 minutes. Incubation lasts about 30 days and the eggs hatch synchronously, usually within 12 hours. 24 to 36 hours after hatching, the young leave the nest. Their mother encourages them to jump and then they walk to a nearby body of water.
After leaving nest, ducklings swim and feed with ease. Most feeding in first few days is by surface dabbling, but ducklings can dive within 1–2 d after leaving nest. Dives increase in duration and efficiency after the first week.
These ducklings have been at the pond for less than a week.
At some point, Mama Goldeneye decided it was time to go huddle on land.
Common Goldeneye ducklings are quite independent. They require little direct care. Mothers brood their young at night or during inclement weather for about two weeks after hatching. They protect them from danger for 5 to 6 weeks and then abandon them before they are able to fly. Young Goldeneyes can fly at 8 to 9 weeks of age. Occasionally, mothers abandon ducklings to another mother when they are younger than 5 weeks old. This usually happens when the mother loses a territorial dispute with another mother or when many of her ducklings die in their first week.
All facts I didn’t observe myself are from Birds of North America Online:
Eadie, J. M., M. L. Mallory and H. G. Lumsden. 1995. Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/170/articles/breeding