Top Photo: Six of 14 mallard ducklings in wetlands.
I got a call on the radio telling me that there were, “a bunch of baby ducks swimming around in the wetlands,” specifically, the swampy area on the west side of the path near the Main Wetlands Overlook. I went to investigate.
They were mallards, a female and at least thirteen ducklings (a later count totaled 14 ducklings). The ducklings were frantically feeding as the mother carefully swam along with them, ever vigilant. As I watched, and tried to get photos of the group, I noticed the female crane her neck to the side and gaze skyward. She gave out a low quack, her brood froze.
At the same instant I heard the unmistakable hight-pitched, whistled call of an osprey. Looking up, there it was, in the gray overcast sky some twenty feet above the treetops. It was looking down at the ducklings. As I quickly moved out from under the trees to get a photo, the osprey wheeled and took off to the east.
Had I remained still, I might have witnessed something truly interesting, an osprey taking a duckling, something I’ve never seen before. We all know that osprey are fish specialists, but they may also feed on birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats, and salamanders. This osprey was probably headed north, saw the ducklings from above and decided to drop in for a closer look. I apparently interrupted its plans.
Though the osprey passed by without incident to the ducklings, I expect the number of ducklings will decrease, they’re subject to predation by other local hawks, fox and other mammals, and even snapping turtles from below.
A visit to the wetlands the next day found the ducklings on the far side of the wetlands, they all seemed healthy, though I couldn’t get an accurate count due to the dense vegetation where they fed.
Later that day the whole family swam off together in close formation. If you look carefully (below) you can count 14 little heads.