May Babies

Female black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) and ducklings

The first time I noticed this mother duck, she was resting on a bank at the Lafitte’s Cove pond on Galveston Island with all seven of her ducklings tucked beneath her wings.

After a time, as she led them to the water for a swim, the father arrived to stand guard while they splashed, chased one another, and fed on the greens just under the surface of the water.

I found it hard to photograph the active ducklings in a single group because of their constant scattering and diving, but even a single duckling makes a worthy subject, especially when it seems to have crowned itself Queen (or perhaps King) of the May.


Comments always are welcome.


48 thoughts on “May Babies

  1. Oh, aren’t ducks fun to watch — you’re right. Hard to shoot a moving target when it’s bobbing up and down but butts up is a cute pose. I’ve never seen this “version” of duck before. She’s quite beautiful.

    1. I can watch ducks for hours — and sometimes get to, since there’s quite a mallard community in the marina right outside my window. I rarely see any other species here at home, but we have a wonderful variety in more natural settings: teal, scaup, pintails — and even another species of whistling duck.

      Do you see a greater variety in summer? I’d think so, since we have winter visitors that go back north to breed.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? We do develop a bit of affection for these creatures — especially the ones we see on a regular basis. This family has found a perfect spot with clean water, plenty of hiding places, and lots to eat. I’ve seen them three times now, and will go back this weekend to see if they’re still around. I’m sure they’ll stay in the pond until the babies are able to fly.

      1. Momma is keeping our little duck family in the cove out of sight after the first swim under the bridge where the water was out and the sandy weedy beach available. She must have been exhausted that night from keeping them all together and all the adult ducks far away. We think she’s got them in a rocky shallow area not far from here.
        We’ve spotted a bunny hanging in there in the island’s grasses and the rabbit warren there under the board walk. Fingers crossed there’s more. Hawks are far too busy along there.

    1. These ducklings are characters. I caught two of them tussling with one another, locking bills just like the adult males do and flapping those tiny wing stubs for all they were worth. Their bath time is a hoot, too. When all seven start diving and surfacing, it’s pure chaos — and a lot of fun to watch.

    1. I’m hoping for some better “action shots” before they grow too much more. Between their increasing size and the attentiveness of the parents, I suspect they’ll all survive and learn to “navigate” their pond safely (no compass needed!)

    1. No, although I finally decided on different photos and a different title. There probably aren’t many left who remember the game called Mother, May I?, so a steely-eyed duck and the title “Mother’s May Eye” might have been a little too subtle.

      1. Mother, May I?, What’s the time, Mr Wolf, Statues, Grandma’s Footsteps, Red Light Green Light……oh the games we played. We were every bit as active as those little ducklings. And probably just as cute!

        1. We also played Statues and Red Light, Green Light, which were nearly the same game. I don’t know the others, but now I’m remembering Red Rover, Simon Says, and Keep Away. They were simple, yes — but when I look at my class photos from those days, there’s not an overweight child to be seen. The two boys who were quite heavy happened to be twins, and their parents also were very large people, so I suspect genetics played a role there. And we were cute: no question about that.

  2. Lovely photos once again, Linda! Those wee ones with their striped markings just beg to be held and cuddled. I don’t know as I’ve seen a duck with a red-orange beak before — probably they’re more comfortable with your part of the country than mine.

    1. They are a duck of the south and southeastern U.S., Debbie. I just checked the map, and found they will breed along the Arkansas rivers, but no farther north than that.

      They tend to be social, and fairly tolerant of human presence, so they’re fun to be around. The parents form strong bonds, and both help raise the babies, so it’s completely different than the mallard world. It will be fun to watch these grow up.

  3. Adorable. So many communities make retention ponds and put fountains in them for ascetic value selling the property, so every now and again you have to slow down to let the ducks cross the road. Ump, sounds like the start to a new joke?

    1. They are adorable — so much so that the pair of mallards I suspect of nesting somewhere around a close-by median have attracted the attention of the neighbors. When I go to the grocery store now, there’s a brand new yellow sign at the edge of the road that shows a mama duck with her babies. It says, “CAUTION! Duck Crossing!” It looks like the neighbors are taking things seriously!

  4. Interesting! These frequent the coastal areas, especially the marshes; a year ago this month I also photographed the Whistling Ducks with little ones…

    This week I included this species in a T-shirt illustration for Global Big Day/Manabi Ecuador…. Friends and I will be covering two areas – the ‘Segua/Marsh’ near Chone and Poza Honda. My neighbors – the very-rare Brown Wood Rails – now have five fast-growing young ones…

    Do you plan to participate in Global Big Day? I’ll bet my ‘Ecuador Birding Women’ will be out and counting! Say hi to them, por favor!

    1. Believe it or not, I haven’t heard of the Global Big Day. One reason may be that our biggest birding festival of the year just took place: Feather Fest, which is a celebration of the spring fall-out of migratory songbirds. It’s quite an event, and the nature centers, refuges, and beaches have been full to the brim with birders from Canada, England, northern states, and so on. I think everyone’s a little tired from a full week of events.

      Also, our native plant society chapter just had a big plant sale last weekend, and many are participating in a wetland planting session this coming weekend. It’s time to begin collecting some seeds on the prairies, too. I don’t think they’re quite ready, but the pods have formed, and it won’t be long. There’s so much to do and so much to see — spring’s getting away from me, and summer is edging in the door. Coneflowers, mistflower, coreopsis, and gaillardia are everywhere, and even the sunflowers and rosinweed are coming on. We need some rain to perk things up — maybe this weekend.

      1. We have the mistflower here as well – always interesting to see the same plants so far from ‘my own briarpatch.’

        Feather Fest is a great name, and I’m sure everyone enjoys it.

        The stats for the USA look good for the Global Big Day – lots of lists turned in. We’re a bit disappointed in how few people uploaded lists/participated, but still, Ecuador’s in #3 place, behind Colombia and Peru. The weekend went well!

        1. Competition’s part of it, but the joy of discovery is, too. I suspect that you were just as happy with your sightings as anyone in Columbia or Peru –no? It would have been fun to have the most sightings, but I suspect the numbers will show that you did very well, anyway. And now I’m off to your blog, to see if there might be photos!

            1. Those rails are spiffy little birds. They remind me of the gallinules — not necessarily shape and color, but the dainty way they pick their way through the plants.

    1. Thanks, Tom. They always bring a smile — especially this species. I wish you could have seen the seven ducklings in power-bathing mode. Such splashing and diving I’ve never seen.

  5. There is something so life affirming about ducks. Perhaps it dates back to childhood. Most children are taken to ducks, even as young as babies, by their parents. The first toys often are ducks. They talk to humans like no other feathered creature. They also look you into the eyes. They are honest and forthright. I love ducks.

    1. I hadn’t thought about the life-affirming nature of ducks, but you’re right. From my vantage point, I can watch the families coming down to feed the mallards, and even the tiniest children squeal with delight. You’ve also reminded me that I had one of those pull-ducks when I was a child. I distinctly remember that it quacked when I pulled it behind me on its string. It had wooden wheels, too, which made a very satisfying sound on the wooden floor.

      These whistling ducks are more tolerant of humans than many species, and that offers wonderful opportunities to watch them going about their lives: sleeping, tending the little ones, and just hanging out. It took me a while, but I finally found some delightful photos from a nest a couple of years ago. I need to collect some of those and post them.

    1. You would enjoy them immensely, Dina. They’re quite unlike our mallards in several ways: not least of which is that the fathers stay around and help raise the babies. And they are beautiful. I think their little blue bill-tips are delightful.

  6. I love watching ducks too, particularly mother ducks guarding and interacting with their offspring. The Fathers can get quite protective when I try to photograph the ducklings up close.

    1. It’s always fun to watch the families interacting with one another, and seeing how the different species deal with our intrusions. I’ve never spent much time around true ponds, and it seems like an especially good environment for ducks. These don’t have to deal with gulls attacking the babies from above, or gar fish snatching them from below. Life’s hard enough as it is without those insults.

    1. They do whistle. In fact, they only whistle and call: no quacking from these ducks. Here’s a great selection of recordings of their sounds. Once I figured them out, it was easy as could be to spot them even in flight. They’re great multi-taskers, and can whistle and fly at the same time.

      That’s a great line about the dabblers. In fact, it’s so good that I believe I’ll use the whole song for another post with some photos of the tail-tippers. Thanks!

    1. I hope you get to see them frolicking in a pond some day. They’re social, approachable, and great fun. Besides, there’s nothing quite so delightful as seeing something from books suddenly alive before our eyes.

    1. They do whistle, too — no quacking from these ducks. We’re near the northern edge of their range; they can be found at least as far south as Ecuador. They are lovely — some of the prettiest I see.

  7. Love the green crown, Linda. And I definitely understand the difficulty of trying to catch a group of baby ducks together all at once. And believe me, I’ve tried! –Curt

    1. These certainly were active, Curt. But when it was time to move from Point A to Point B, they lined up behind mama, and there was no funny business: it was straight across the pond in one long line. I must say, spending time trying to photograph these darlings is time well spent.

  8. You were fortunate to catch the ducklings along with the black-bellied whistling duck. I remember them being so shy where I saw them about five years ago.

    1. I need to look for them again this weekend. So much time has passed — two weeks or so — that babyhood no doubt is over, and I may find some early teen-aged ducklings. They’re no less cute, of course, and they can be even more active and fun.

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