Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Duck Divorce

The Muscovy ducks who lived next to my apartment building seemed to have an uncommon fondness for hanging out in the parking lot, something that caused me no end of worry. Hot days would find them resting under the cool shade of a sedan or SUV, never mind the inviting palms and other leafy trees available nearby. Other times, I'd observe them wandering among the cars and vans, seemingly oblivious to the danger of being run over. Of course, they were capable of flight, though they rarely took to the air. But perhaps they felt secure in the knowledge that if vehicular impact seemed imminent, they could simply fly out of harm's way.

Still, I worried, especially when several days passed and I didn't see the smaller, black-headed duck anywhere. Could there have been a car incident? A pressed duck? Wouldn't I have heard about it? The white-headed duck still hung out on the grassy knoll, chomping away at blades of coarse Florida grass with gusto. He seemed not to miss his formerly-constant companion at all.

A week or so passed with no sighting of the smaller duck, whom I had always assumed to be the female. I'd done some Internet research about Muscovy ducks and had read that males are larger and have more caruncles. The white-headed duck certainly seemed to be the male of the pair. And at the moment, he seemed to have been abandoned by his mate.

One afternoon, the white-headed duck discovered some breadcrumbs scattered at the edge of the parking lot. As he began eating them, I suddenly saw the black-headed duck literally run from across the parking lot to share in the breadcrumb bounty. My heart fluttered with joy. The little duck was alive and well!

However, she was apparently not welcome. She joined her former companion and began eating, but every time she got too close to him, he pecked her away. Eventually, she turned and headed back to a planted hedge between two cars. Wanting to understand what was going on but having no clue, I speculated that she was sitting on eggs in a secluded spot within the thick hedge. The following day, I decided to investigate, but found no trace of eggs, nor of a sitting duck.

The mystery deepened. In the late afternoon, I would often notice the white duck perambulating the parking lot. I took to watching him from my apartment terrace, using binoculars at times. Occasionally, the black duck would appear and walk over to her former partner. They might stay together for a moment but then they would separate, like magnets first attracting then repelling one another.

Apparently, there had been a duck divorce. Perhaps now the ducks were arguing over custody of the parking lot. Certainly, neither was around for much of the day. Maybe they were off scouting new real estate.

One afternoon, I took my typical walk, using the path that begins at the parking lot and continues along Biscayne Bay. I had walked perhaps a quarter of a mile, far from where I'd ever seen the ducks, when something caused me to turn my head. To my amazement, the black-headed duck was flying toward me. She landed and sidled up to me. I greeted her with manic expressions of duckie affection. I almost gave into an urge to kneel down and pet her, but contented myself with repeated endearments on the order of "my little duckie-wuckie." After a minute, she waggled her tail, walked a few steps and went flying off over the water in the direction of downtown Miami.

That was the last I saw of either duck for a while. Lately, I occasionally see one or the other, but never both together. It recently occurred to me that there may be a reason no little ducklings were born to the pair this winter—they may not be male and female after all! The white-headed duck, though bigger than the other, is still much smaller than many Muscovies I've seen. Perhaps the pair are both females who stayed together out of a social impulse that seems characteristic of ducks, while waiting for their perfect mates to appear. Since no drakes ever arrived, maybe some duck imperative has now driven them to seek their mates elsewhere.

Whatever the case, my duck separation may not be so much a duck divorce as two BFFs heading off in search of love. At least that's what I like to imagine.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen examples when animals aren't naturally green, like dogs who preferred to walk on the sidewalk rather than the grass. Or probably they don't know what is nature and what isn't (as if sidewalks aren't nature in the same way that we are).