Thursday, April 23, 2009

Circle of Life

I was out on the porch this morning hanging some clothes out to dry when I realized there was a mallard mommy and a whole mess o' baby ducklings swimming in the lake.

For a non-maternal person, I'm pretty darn fond of baby anythings*, so I took a few moments to snap some pics and count the babies - eleven fuzzballs swimming by their duck mommy. I could see they were starting to lose their yellow down, so they are probably a week or so old by now. They still tended to swim in a group hunched close to their mother, and rarely ventured away to look for their own food.

I marveled for a while at their adorableness, and wondered whether perhaps I had seen these little ducklings being conceived. For some reason, our backyard seems to be a real hotspot for duck mating. I won't include a picture here, but suffice it to say that's it's rather like a fistfight in a bar - disgusting and violent, yet you can't seem to look away. Anyway, last month, there always seemed to be a pair (or more!) of ducks "knowing" each other in our backyard (as they say in the bible), and I wondered if I was seeing some of the results today.

Well, I had chores to do, so I threw some cracked corn to some other ducks nearby and headed back inside. One of our favorite resident ducks, Blanco, along with a few of his gang, stopped by for a late morning snack.

Not long after this, I heard the most horrific quacking and, for lack of a better term, duck shrieking drifting in the windows. We hear a lot of crazy duck noises in the backyard, but this was really fierce, so away to the window I flew like a flash to see what was the matter.

A red-shouldered hawk had come a-hunting.

Each time the hawk swooped over the ducklings, the mother flew into the air, flapping her wings and making a terrible racket. Soon, Blanco and his cronies were joining in the fight. They joined the mother in swimming around the babies, shooting into the air and defending these little puffballs with all their might. When the hawk pulled back to reassess, the mother herded her little ones to the shore while her guards swam sentry nearby.

The battle lasted, off and on, for nearly 20 minutes, with the hawk taking breaks in a nearby tree to wait for the best advantage. I watched the life being threatened in My Florida Backyard in fascination, as horrified and mesmerized as I was by when that very life was being created.

The hawk won, of course. One duckling was caught and eaten in a pine tree nearby. Then the attacks resumed, until a second unwary baby was snatched in the sharp talons. The hawk flew off, perhaps taking the prey to its own nest nearby to feed its own babies.

And that's the circle of life, folks, and not in the cute Disney way. If you're going to love nature, you have to respect it all, even when it seems hard to watch. British author P.D. James probably said it best:

“A man who lives with nature is used to violence and is companionable with death.
There is more violence in an English hedgerow than in the meanest streets of a great city.”

The mother mallard eventually swam away with her nine remaining babies, no doubt to the face the same challenges over and over again until those who survive are old enough to begin their own families. The circle continues unbroken, and that's a good thing, for when it's broken, nature ceases to exist.

*I was once heard to exclaim, upon reading a National Geographic article on the birth of planets, "Awww, baby planets!"

No comments:

Post a Comment