April 09, 2021
When I was reading my paper this morning a male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) flew onto one of my feeders. While I had taken an earlier photo of a female Goldfinch, this was the first male I have seen at my feeders. The males have a bright yellow body while the females are a duller yellow brown, and both have white stripes on black wings. I quickly found my camera and stealthily came back to the bay window. The bird flew off as I approached but landed in a nearby tree. I refocused my lens and clicked the photo. Nothing. I tried again and remembered the last time I had this problem was when I had removed the photo card. I went back to the office to get the card from my computer but by the time I returned the Finch was gone. No finch photo for me today.
I had taken my flash card out of the camera and put it in my computer because I was trying to identify a pair of birds I found last week. They were large duck like birds but had a goose like knob on top of the bill. The male had a black body with splashes of white and the female was the color of a female mallard. They both had white heads and necks, with distinctive reddish-orange eye patches. I had never seen anything like them. I have been going through my bird identification sources since I photographed them but had been unable to identify what they were. I began to think they were some sort of hybrid.
With the disappointment of not being able to photograph the male Goldfinch I decided to try and identify this illusive bird once more. I searched through my books, checked my online identifiers, and finally found something that was similar (but not like) the birds I had seen. Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moschata) are large, heavy-bodied ducks with long necks that can make them look like small geese. They have a long bill that slopes smoothly up to the forehead. Males are larger than females, and individuals of the domesticated subspecies (Cairina moschata domestica) are often larger than the wild subspecies (Cairina moschata sylvestris). When I heard some varieties were domesticated, I checked for images of domesticated Muscovy. That is where I found images of my ducks.
Thoughts: Muscovy ducks make good pets because of their peaceful temperament and because they are relatively silent. The domesticated Muscovy duck is the only domestic duck species not bred from mallard stock, and several Indigenous tribes had domesticated the Muscovy by the time of Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas. They are often raised for their meat, and the taste is often compared to that of expensive ham (appropriately, I saw them around Easter). Muscovy’s seem to be one of the few things that do not taste like chicken. While the wild Muscovy are found in Southern Florida and the Rio Grande River Valley in Texas, the domesticated variety stretch throughout the Americas. Domestication of wild species is one of the ways humans have found to expand their populations. That is true for both domesticated animal and plant species. Humans have found that domestication often alters appearance but can also alter the viability of the species. Most grains grown today are Hybrids, which mean they are sterile and cannot reproduce without human intervention. While they outproduce wild varieties, they are genetically more vulnerable. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.