I have talked many times about the canal that runs outside the back of our house. That’s it in the picture above. It never ceases to amaze me seeing all the different kinds of animals that come crawling out of it. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of the filming of one of those old episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
Yes, it’s Florida and, yes, we have alligators. But in 18 years I have seen only two alligators in our canal, though reports of a third one are currently circulating. Based on the saga of a small family of ducks we’ve been seeing lately, I would say the reports are accurate. Here is a classic illustration of the survival of the fittest…at least in our backyard!
The variety of ducks that call South Florida home are dominated by the Muscovy. You see them everywhere; in residential areas, wandering around shopping center parking lots, attending church on Sunday. They are not at all an attractive bird. They have an inconsistent greasy coloring of black, green, brown and white. Most have a grotesque growth of red fleshy nodules called “carunkles” that run from around the eyes then down around the beak. They are clumsy looking, even more ridiculous when they run and they’re very obnoxious when mating. The males don’t care whom they force themselves on top of (literally), whether it’s a close relative or a female barely old enough to fly. The act is usually done in the water with the male insisting his mate remain totally submerged until he is through with her. It’s a wonder how she survives. Afterwards, if things went right, she lays a dozen or more eggs and then has to sit on them for 32 days. Then, by all observation, she becomes a single mom.
Every spring we have the replenishing of the population as just about every female waddles around the neighborhood with a new brood of little ones dutifully lined up single-file behind them. As each day goes by, the number of followers decreases as Ma Nature diminished them to an appropriate level. One tactic she uses is to have great white egrets (those magnificent large, tropical birds you often see in Florida wildlife paintings) swoop down and snatch a baby duckling in its beak then flying off with it as we folks down on the ground anxiously wait for the panicky chirping to fade away. Bye bye baby duckling.
We currently have a family of teens hanging around the house (above). There is the mother and what are now young, near-adult ducklings. About the last transition they have to go through is growing their wings and learning how to fly. BTW, as clumsy as the Muscovies are on the ground, they are surprisingly fast and fluid once airborne.
A few weeks ago Ma Duck had five teenagers she was taking care of. Oh wait, make that four. “Taking care of” means she waddles around all day and they follow wherever she goes. If they come upon some food, especially from some caring humans who are willing to dispense a few slices of bread (I wonder who that might be?) Ma Duck will aggressively fight for her share, the kids be damned. Sort of reminds me of my mother when a box of chocolate butter creams was in the house.
But alas, our four teenage ducks are not immune from the challenges of nature’s balance–oh wait, make that three. Usually once they’ve grown to a youthful size they are past the more serious threats to survival. We do not have any idea where the two missing teens have gone, though it is possible they became lunch for the “reported” creature currently submarining within the depths of the canal. As further evidence of this reptilian visitor, I present Exhibit A to the right, a picture of Ma Duck’s new butt-doo…or what’s left of the old one. Something has obviously grabbed hold of it and she managed to pull away, but not before sacrificing a good bit of feathers. Hmmm, wonder what could have come up from behind her and attempted such a feisty bite?
And so it goes along the mighty canal that runs out back of our house. Scenic as it is, there is no question that some of nature’s more sinister sights are lurking just below the surface. Quack Quack!