Last year, Central Park was set a twitter (no pun intended) by the unexpected presence of a mandarin duck – which had no business being here but which was unusual enough to warrant national coverage in the New York Times. Many kinds of ducks can be seen in Central Park – mallards, of course, but also ruddy ducks, wood ducks, mergansers and buffleheads, among others.
Two important items about ducks. One, bread and bread crumbs are not healthy for ducks (or any fowl). Aside from offering minimal nutritional value, it often leads to “angel wing,” a deformity in young ducks which prevents flight. Two, ducks born in school hatching projects or purchased for pets are often abandoned in the parks or left to starve on the streets; they are not prepared for the wild and will suffer and die if released in that manner.
Please take responsibility to deal with animals in your control to do so compassionately. If you must be rid of an animal for which you cannot find a suitable home, please take it to a rescue locale.
Interestingly water fowl have an oil gland in the rear which is used by the ducks to waterproof themselves. The oil is spread on the feathers by “preening” with the bill, an action which is often seen but not commonly understood for its purpose. It is that which enables water to roll off a ducks back. That waterproofing must be maintained by frequent reapplication. That, and feathers, provide insulation to withstand cold water and weather.
Many ducks have relatively bulbous bodies which make them buoyant but which also make them more awkward in flight and frustrate efforts to get below the water’s surface. You have undoubtedly seen mallards with their heads under water and their butts pointing skyward.
Others, like ruddy ducks and buffleheads, are smaller, sit lower in the water and can readily dive below the surface.
Casual duck identification is occasionally confusing as females often look markedly different than males. For example, the female wood duck is mostly brownish grey; the female mallard rarely shows the bright blue or purple band on the wing displayed by the males; and coloration may change with the season, particularly in mating season. The male ruddy ducks get a blue bill when ready.
Top photo: Mallards
All photos by Fred R. Cohen. See more of his work on his website.