Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring Time Stories

Even for seemingly repetitive spring season around our community each year, there are something unique for us to observe, to enjoy and to fascinate about.

Mallards in swimming pool

There are a lot of Mallards, i.e. wild ducks, at the pond in Russell Creek Park. I saw paired mallards swimming in the pond, flying in the air, and sometimes they come to the residential area. According to all about birds, they are generally monogamous. No wonder they are regarded as affectionate couples. Even though it is said that female mallards raise ducklings by themselves, I frequently saw families of ducks - a female duck, ducklings and a male duck swimming in the pond. They are peaceful families

One evening, Lily and I walked around our block after dinner - for some reason I brought my camera with me. When we were approaching the community pool, a lone male mallard (drake) wandering outside the fence of the pool drew my attention - I had never seen a lonely mallard away from the pond. As we got closer, it flew inside the fence to the pool - looking over the bushes, we saw a flock of ducks in the pool. Curious, we went to the pool as well.

An old couple were there by the pool, the old man was taking pictures, the lady was sitting on a chair looking on: A female duck (hen) with 9 ducklings were swimming in the pool! The drake was swimming around the flock. I took a few pictures of the group - as it was getting dark quickly, I turned off my camera and put it in the case. As we were were wondering how the ducklings could get to the pool, supposedly from the pond, the drake started to chase the hen. As the chase went on, the ducklings swam to a corner of the pool. The drake finally caught the hen and mounted it! After the drake got off the hen, the hen quacked loudly and chased the drake away. I was surprised to see the discord, and was astonished to see the 'domestic violence' - assuming the two ducks were a pair.

Afterwards, I still see paired mallards gently swim at the pond - typically a drake following a hen, or fly overhead - projecting the very image of an affectionate couple; I still see a hen and a drake herding ducklings, lazily and harmoniously. I guess what we observed that evening was just an aberration.

House Finches and Northern Mockingbirds

The Saturday morning two weeks ago, when I was at our home office, I heard this beautiful bird chirping just outside the window - similar to the sound I heard when I worked in the yard. Looking out, I saw a red head bird on a branch of the big tree in the front yard - I thought it was a cardinal. After several tries, I finally took a clean picture of the bird. Looking at pictures of the bird, Justin told me it was some type of finch. It turned out to be a male house finch.

To take better pictures of the finch, I went out. Then I saw another bird (female - one could tell by looking at the feathers)with grasses in its beak flying into the pine tree. The pair of house finches were building their nest in the pine tree. My interests in the birds went through the roof. I stood in the front yard observing the birds for quite some time. Here is what I observed:

When the female bird gets grass stems or small sticks from somewhere, they fly back to my front yard. The male finch arrives first, landing on a branch on the big tree with a clear view of the pine tree, where they are building their nest. Looking around a bit, then it starts to make bird calls. A few seconds later, the female finch flies to the pine tree, flapping its wings, so it is almost stationary there right before it enters the pine tree - presumably checking if it is safe. When the female gets inside the pine tree building the nest, the male stopped chirping. After a minute or two, the male starts to make bird calls again, then the female flies out of the pine tree - perching on a different branch on the big tree - in a few seconds, the female flies away and the male follows.

The male finch is responsible for reconnaissance. The bird calls it makes are signals to its spouse that it is safe to come to him.

Sunday morning I went out to check on the finches, I noticed that my old bird neighbour, a northern mockingbird, was making ugly piercing noise - not its usual pleasant sound, and the finches were nowhere to see. The female mockingbird was on the roof edge with sticks in its beak. The mockingbird were remodeling their nest in the small tree :), which is about 20 feet away from the pine tree.

The mockingbirds obviously noticed that the finches were trying to build a nest near theirs. The male mockingbird was agitated, flew up and down in the big tree, to the roof, to the other side of the street, patrolling it territory, making the loud, piercing noise - trying to scare the finches away- even though the finches were building their nest on the pine tree. The mockingbird was making noise even when I approached the tree

The bigger, stronger and louder mockingbirds scared the smaller finches. The finches dared not to come to the pine tree when the mockingbird was around. When mockingbirds flew away to collect their building materials, the finches appeared on the roof edges, the male finch first, then the female. The male finch made a couple of calls then stopped, not feeling safe - they flew away to the big trees across the street, making calls there -maybe trying to lure the mockingbirds away?

I was tempted to help the finches, but eventually refrained to take any action.

Note: I mistaken the northern mockingbirds as swallows for some time until a reader pointed it out in a comment.


  1. It looks to me that the "swallow" is actually a Northern Mockingbird....

  2. I checked bird guide (all about birds) - you are right - I will correct it this weekend. Thanks!


  3. Yes. I have seen Mallard family groups. I have read it's the hen's job to incubate and rear the young. I do not know if it's an "aberration" or a different male who's not the father just looking for a chance to mate...My impression is that most of the time, the male moves on or joins other males once the hen has made the nest and starts brooding, but, since I have seen complete family groups too....I wonder! Could it be older drakes might tag along with a hen and her duckling? What do you think?