Shovelers’ Morning Ritual
Reminder: You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full-screen image.
Every duck that I’ve watched closely seems to spend an awful lot of its time engaging in self-grooming. Ducks constantly clean themselves. They do so singly, but often communally, with entire flocks of ducks simultaneously grooming themselves. What is the significance of all of this obsessive cleaning behavior? Well, duck feathers are not naturally waterproof. When they get wet they can become waterlogged. Anyone who owns a down jacket knows what this means. Wet feathers are heavy feathers and they lose their insulating quality. A duck with waterlogged feathers can swim, if at all, only with great difficulty and probably cannot fly. It may also be susceptible to hypothermia if the water and air temperatures are cold. So, waterproofing those feathers is critical. Ducks do that by keeping the feathers clean but also by spreading oil over their feathers from oil-producing glands on their bodies.
This female Northern Shoveler is doing precisely that. She’s rubbing her beak over her oil glands and will follow that by rubbing her oily beak on her feathers.
This male Northern Shoveler is doing much the same thing. The intensity with which these ducks groom themselves sometimes causes them to lose focus on what’s going on around them. These two allowed me to approach within about 10 feet of them while they were engaging in grooming, an intimacy that they would never allow under other circumstances.
And, even though this activity can look pretty comical (I laughed when I saw this photo) it is a survival activity for these ducks that is just as important as eating is.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 250, “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/640 (first photo), f6.3 @ 1/800 (second photo).