Odd Ducks

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Today I’m presenting a mystery, one that I believe I’ve finally solved after a lot of digging.  Lately, I’ve been going to Reid Park in central Tucson a couple of times a week.  At the moment the park’s ponds are filled with migrant ducks, including a few species that we seldom see in southern Arizona, and I’ve been photographing as many of these interesting species as possible.

The pair that I’m featuring today has been hanging out on one of the park’s ponds for several weeks.  These are very small ducks, smaller even then American Wigeons.  They stay at one end of the pond, at the entrance of a stream that supplies the pond with its water.  They don’t avoid contact with other ducks but neither do they socialize with them.  They are clearly a mated pair: they are inseparable and, morphologically, they closely resemble each other.  I’ve found no other ducks among the hundreds presently residing at the park that resemble these two.

The male appears to be almost black when viewed in  shade and very deep brown with green accents in direct sunlight.

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The female, like many female ducks, is chestnut brown.  She, like the male, has a white breast.

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These two ducks resemble nothing that I’ve been able to find in any field guide.  Nor can I find an image on line that depicts wild ducks that look like them.  Identifying them has been like solving a puzzle.

Ducks of several species have been known to hybridize with ducks of other species.  Mallards, in particular, are notorious for their indiscriminate breeding.  Generally, however, hybrid ducks look like hybrids. Their plumage is irregular, and they often bear the distinctive characteristics of one or both parents.  Mallard hybrids, for example, usually look like oddly colored Mallards.

This pair, however, does not look like a pair of Mallard hybrids.  Their plumage is quite regular in the sense that it doesn’t contain odd patterns.  Their morphology is distinctive.  Notice, for example, the bills on these two.  They are very small and exactly alike, as would be the case of pure bred ducks from a given species.  Nothing about these two resembles a Mallard.

So, what are they?  After a lot of digging around, I’ve concluded that these two are “Call Ducks.”

Call Ducks are domesticated ducks. Many years ago, breeders developed a type of very small domestic duck that hunters would use to call in wild birds.  Call Ducks got their name from the fact that they were bred for their calls.  They are generally much smaller than wild ducks, weighing only about two pounds at the maximum.  That was an advantage to hunters in bygone days because they could carry around these ducks from one site to another with ease.

Today, Call Ducks are bred for their appearance, just the way that pigeon fanciers breed unique strains of domestic pigeon for appearance. There are numerous strains of this bird.  The two ducks that I feature tonight may be “pure bred” Call Ducks, but nonetheless, they are a domesticated species.  Someone may have had these ducks as pets at one time and released them into the wild.  Or, they are escapees.

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Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm zoom ISII lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400.  All images shot at f5.6 with shutter speeds varied from 1/640 to 1/1250.

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