November 09, 2021

When I was driving to work this morning I passed the human-made water fall along the road near my house with the wandering deer statures I have mentioned.  With the recent rain the water was flowing and even standing in the ditch below the fall.  What initially caught my eye was an odd looking black and white duck standing beside the road.  I had first seen this species last April with what appeared to be a breeding pair.  Now there was a flock of seven of the birds in the same area where I had seen the pair.  I wondered if these may have been the original pair and their surviving offspring.  I still find it an odd-looking duck.

The Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is a large duck native to the Americas.  Small wild and feral breeding populations have established themselves in the US as well as in many other parts of North America.  Feral Muscovy ducks are found in New Zealand, Australia, and in parts of Europe.  The Muscovy is a large duck, with the males about 76 cm (30 in) long and weighing up to 7 kg (15 lbs).  The females are smaller, and only grow to 3 kg (6.6 lbs), or half of the size of the male.  The bird is mostly black and white, and the amount of white on the neck and head is variable.  The bill can vary from yellow, pink, black, or any mixture of these colors.  The ducks may have white patches or bars on the wings, which become more noticeable during flight.  Both sexes have pink or red wattles around the bill, although those of the male a larger and more brightly colored.  The Muscovy is the only domestic duck not descended from the wild Mallard ((Anas platyrhynchos).

Although the Muscovy duck is a tropical bird, it adapts well to cooler climates, thriving in weather as cold as −12C (10F) and able to survive even colder conditions.  The domestic subspecies (Cairina moschata domestica) is commonly known in Spanish as the pato criollo.  They have been bred since pre-Columbian times by Native Americans and are heavier and less able to fly long distances than the wild subspecies.  Their plumage color is also more variable.  The strange, warty-faced Muscovy causes confusion for some bird watchers (including me), as it’s very distinctive and quite commonly seen, yet does not appear in many field guides.  Truly wild individuals are restricted to south Texas and below, but domesticated versions occur in parks and farms across much of North America.

Thoughts:  A group of ducks has many collective nouns, including “a flock”, “a brace of ducks”, “flush of ducks”, “paddling of ducks”, “raft of ducks”, and a “team of ducks.”  Most waterfowl are unsociable during the breeding period but are drawn together for the remainder of the year.  As waterfowl migrate south toward their wintering grounds, the birds become more social, foraging, and roosting in great numbers on traditional staging and wintering habitats.  As a group, waterfowl are more likely to detect predators and other threats than a single bird.  Large numbers of birds may also confuse predators by presenting them a variety of targets, increasing the odds of survival for an individual duck.  Group migration also has the advantage as they fly in a characteristic V formation helping each duck conserve energy.  This allows a young duck to benefit from the experience of more seasoned adults who are familiar with migration routes as well as good places to feed and rest along the flyways.  While humans evolved grouping together for protection and food acquisition, this no longer a necessity.  Adaptation now allows me to go to the market on my own.  Still, we are innately a social animal and need contact.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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