Those Family Ties

While the Horseshoe Lake trail looping through the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge can be rich in wildflowers, the lake itself attracts a wide variety of birds.

During my visit on March 19, I found this group of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) cruising the lake. Watching them, I began to suspect I’d come across  a mother and her grown-up ducklings enjoying the spring day. The behavior of the group of six — following their mother in a single line, or surrounding her in a group when she called — was what I would have expected from a group of fresh-from-the-egg hatchlings.

Last September, I found a Whistling Duck mother teaching her six ducklings how to navigate Horseshoe Lake. While I can’t prove that the ducks I found last weekend are the same — albeit all grown up — no one can convince me they aren’t. In any event, they certainly seemed to be enjoying one another’s company, and I enjoyed theirs.


Comments always are welcome.

49 thoughts on “Those Family Ties

    1. They’re one of my favorite birds. The babies are cute, of course, but the teenagers are comical and feisty, and great fun to watch. I suspect this group overwintered in the lake; I’ll look for them the next time I go.

  1. Whistling Ducks of any ilk are quite wonderful; sadly, I rarely get to see them, but Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are showing up with a fair degree of regularity in southern Ontario in recent years. My fondest memories of them are seeing them in their thousand in several locations in Costa Rica.

    1. I can’t even imagine that many Whistling Ducks in one place. As loud and raucous as a couple of dozen can be, I suspect the sound alone might be impressive. You certainly have been able to see sights more of us can only imagine — but having seen just a few of these wonderful birds, I can imagine it!

  2. A “Whistling Duck”?? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a critter. Now I’m heading over to Google to check them out — thanks, Linda, for again adding to my knowledge!

    1. I have tried a couple of times, but failed to get any response except for a look that might have been interpreted as, “What is that idiot human up to now?” I may be fluent in Mallard, but Whistling Duck’s beyond me.

  3. You always give me so many ideas of more refuges to see, but what about the time? Do you have any idea how I can get 48 hours out of a 24-hour day?
    But thanks ever so much for allowing me virtual visits.
    Have a wonderful weekend,

    1. Of course that made me laugh, Pit. I’ve been trying to achieve the same goal for a few years now, and failed. If I figure it out, you’ll be the first person I share my secret knowledge with. Part of the problem is that the refuges aren’t the only temptation. I spent a full hour yesterday in a vacant lot not ten miles from home; that’s what happens when a bit of purple catches my eye!

    1. I think that’s one thing that makes them so photogenic; their colors tend to be in distinct patches, more sharply defined than on some birds. Add in those orange bills, and they’re quite a sight. I never get tired of looking at them; I just wish I came across them more often.

    1. Isn’t that the truth? We didn’t have many last year: perhaps because of that February freeze. I’m hoping the Mallards will make up for it this year; the way they’re chasing one another around, it may happen!

    1. They do lead interesting lives, and it’s great fun to watch their behavior. I almost titled this one ‘synchronized swimming,’ and might have if I’d had a video. The youngsters couldn’t have been more in tune if they’d had practice sessions.

  4. Cute set of photos. Whistling ducks are especially photogenic, I think. That second photo is just charming. Thanks for this dose of duck cuteness!

    1. I agree about their photogenic nature. I just mentioned to someone that the sharply defined patches of color on them helps. I love the babies, but the teenagers can be truly amusing. At that age, they fuss and play-fight with one another like puppies or kittens; it’s a sight to behold.

  5. Every year a couple returns to the bush outside my kitchen window, This year there are 4 blue speckled eggs in the new nest. I believe it is a Northern Mockingbird.

    1. Lucky you! I finally heard a mockingbird singing last week, but I’ve never found a nearby nest. Have you been able to watch the whole process in the past, up to the babies hatching and leaving the nest? That would be something to see. Good luck to your new brood!

      1. She’s still sitting on the eggs. When I look out the window she makes it obvious that she does not approve. She can be fierce too chasing the crows away even though they’re across the street trying to tear open my neighbor’s trash! lol

    1. I do, too. The babies always are a plus, but even the adults are great fun to watch. Sometimes, they don’t even have to be swimming. I found two pair of Northern Shovelers yesterday that made me laugh aloud. I’ll not describe the behavior, but I’ll show it as soon as I come up with just the right “interpretation” of their behavior!

  6. I love watching families of animals, and these are fantastic. And I also love how that second photo does such a good job of showing how different young sometimes are from adult. The chicks look like a completely different species.

    1. It always surprises me to see how duck babies differ from their parents. These remind me of Mallard babies; the markings are very similar. I suppose it’s a means of camouflage, allowing them to blend into the surrounding vegetation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always protect them from threats from below and above: gar fish and gulls seem to consider them delicacies.

      Of course, losing a few isn’t always so bad, given the large number of eggs that can be in one clutch. The most successful mother I’ve ever seen was a Mallard hen who raised seventeen (!) babies to adulthood. They lived around a local marina, so they were easy to keep track of.

    1. Given that there’s been only a six month interval between baby ducks and teen ducks, I really do think so. Beyond that, it’s clear that these were a ‘group.’ I watched them for quite some time as I explored the land around the lake, and where mama went, they followed. They were a fun addition to the afternoon.

    1. The babies always appeal, but I love the photo of the young’uns all looking in the same direction. Have any new robins set up housekeeping in your garden?

    1. It’s great fun to watch any creature develop. Usually we experience it with our cats and dogs, or perhaps birds nesting around the house. So this was an unusual experierience for me. As you say, mama ducks and babies are a joy to watch, and even the older ‘babies’ are cute beyond words.

  7. I’m sure they are the same lot: Fledged, left the nest, migrated, got downsized/laid off at work, and had to move back in with their parents. Looks like all of them have that ridiculous “Viking Mohawk” haircut that has white sidewalls, but is ponytail long on top. (The kind that Vikings only wore when they were on TV).

    1. I love your analogy: fun to imagine. Your mention of migration made me realize I had only an impression that these stay with us year round, and that turns out to be true. The Cornell map shows that they’re mostly non-migratory as a species, so it makes sense that these would have stayed in their lake since popping out of the egg. I am going to have to find the photo from Brazoria that shows some teenagers as ‘Vikings’ — they’re really funny when they begin play fighting with one another.

    1. They really are. I tried to find my photo of some of the teenagers frolicking down at Brazoria, but it seems to have disappeared into the black hole of my archives. I’ll keep looking: it’s hilarious.

    1. They may be my favorite among the ducks. They’re certainly cute/attractive, but their personalities are so distinct. They’re quite social, and generally not too flighty, so getting decent photos of them is easier than with some species.

  8. One of the most adorable sights in nature has to be ducklings following Mom around. Little balls of fluff floating on the water.

    The Black-bellied Whistling Duck has been expanding its range from Central and South America for a couple of decades. Here in Florida, their population is “robust”.

    I also choose to to believe your “teenagers” are the same baby ducks you saw last year.

    1. Since these ducks are only locally migratory, it makes perfect sense to me that they would have stayed at that lovely lake since hatching. It’s going to be interesting to see if the group continues to hang together if others of their kind show up. I presume at least some of these are male; if a particularly fetching female catches its eye, that may be the end of his devotion to mama!

    1. I enjoy every kind of duck, but these are among my favorites. They’re quite handsome, and their personalities would make them the life of any pond party!

  9. Since it would be hard to prove either way, I am a believer that you found the same family. I once photographed some ravens by the Quabbin spillway and was sure I saw the same three flying together several times during the following months after they had fledged. I always enjoy watching ducklings on parade behind Mama. Sometimes there is quite a long line as it seems one Mama duckling sits for another. Duckling daycare, maybe.

    1. I’m sure I had some bluejays who brought their young to my feeders once they’d fledged, and I’m sure that same group kept coming for at least three or four years. I always put their peanuts-in-the-shell in a certain place through the spring and summer. Then, the birds would disappear about November, and that was it for a few months. But every year, those bluejays would show up in spring, perch where the peanuts “should” have been, and scream until I produced some. You just can’t tell me they don’t have some form of reasoning, and memory.

      I never see ducklings in a row without remembering one of my first pull-toys: a line of wooden ducklings that somehow ‘quacked’ when I pulled them.

      1. My buddy and I have always talked about animals definitely having the power of reasoning as well as memory. There are countless examples of animals solving problems. As the owner of beagles I can vouch for it. And I am pretty sure this guy is using the flower to hide while waiting for a fly to fly by.

        1. Speaking of frogs, I’m pretty sure I saw one at Walden West this weekend. It was tiny, and it headed into the pond as soon as I showed up, but I’m certain I saw a definite hop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.