[Tweeters] Re: Frisky Mallard Behavior: WHY???

Marc Hoffman tweeters at dartfrogmedia.com
Wed Oct 19 10:59:15 PDT 2011


Thanks so very much for this detailed explanation of the Mallard
behavior I videotaped at Nisqually. This is not the first time you've
greatly expanded my knowledge. I think the first was an email
exchange we had years ago about Pied-billed Grebe behavior, from
which your detailed description of your research on PBGR's led me to
do a complete camou job on my kayak.

I reviewed the source video of the Mallards, but for some reason the
male at the upper right decided enough was enough, and the routine
ended with the tail-shake and no head shake.

Marc Hoffman
Kirkland, WA

At 11:18 PM 10/18/2011, Martin Muller wrote:

>Marc's video (Mallards Partying at Nisquallly) beautifully

>illustrates a series of "comfort movements." Normal behavior

>associated with feather care and hygiene.


>In a 1965 landmark paper tilted: The Comfort Movements of Anatidae

>(Behavior 25: 120-220) F. McKinney summarized and standardized many

>previously published descriptions as well as his own observations of

>the various behaviors associated with body and plumage care in

>waterfowl, as well as the stylized displays that may be derived from

>these behaviors.


>I highly recommend this paper. You'll never look at birds in the

>same way again!


>One of my favorite tricks during field trips is to predict some of

>the highly ritualized behaviors in flocks of ducks a split second

>before they happen. It's through reading papers like McKinney's that

>I've gained these powers of apparent clairvoyance. It's easy to do,

>especially when dealing with highly "contagious" behaviors like the

>ones Marc shows here.




>If you look at Marc's video, initially you see some mallards

>foraging (including the dabbling = tipping into vertical position

>with head submerged, for which we call them dabbling ducks).


>At 0:22 two male Mallards almost simultaneously start

>head-scratching, which is a cleaning movement. Note that Mallards

>use the "direct" scratching over the closed wing. There is also the

>"indirect" method in which the wing is partially opened and lowered,

>and the leg is brought forward over the wing to scratch the head

>(the Yellow-rumped Warbler is an example of the many species of

>birds that uses the indirect method). Species use either one or the

>other method.


>At 0:27 after the two are done scratching their heads (one resumes

>feeding/dabbling, the other preens) another male starts scratching

>(higher, left). At 0:30 he transitions into bathing, specifically

>head-dipping followed by wing-thrashing.


>At 0:33 while the head-dipping continues, a second (right lower

>corner) does a single wing-thrashing and immediately goes into

>dashing-and-diving. This highly contagious behavior sets off the

>other birds. Afterwards, when calm returns, you can see one male

>(upper right) perform a wing-flap, followed by a tail-shake as the

>video fades out. Very likely a head-shake would have concluded that

>birds' routine (maybe Marc can check his original footage for that?).


>It looks like pandemonium, but actually it's all part of the birds'

>daily routine of keeping their plumage in optimal condition. It is

>often done in flocks, but can also be performed by single birds.


>One other behavior that is often part of the shown repertoire is

>somersaulting. You will recognize it when you see it.


>For a slow-motion version of all of this just watch a flock of Canada Geese.



>Martin Muller, Seattle

><mailto:martimmuller at msn.com>martimmuller at msn.com



>>From: Marc Hoffman

>><<mailto:tweeters at dartfrogmedia.com>tweeters at dartfrogmedia.com>

>>Date: October 17, 2011 6:24:03 PM PDT

>>To: <mailto:tweeters at u.washington.edu>tweeters at u.washington.edu

>>Subject: [Tweeters] Frisky Mallard Behavior: WHY???



>>Sunday Tina Blade and I visited Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

>>for several hours in the afternoon. We watched some very frisky

>>Mallards splashing around the main pond and wondered what the story

>>was: is this courtship, grooming, just plain fun, or what?


>>Here's a link to a short video of the behavior:



>>You can hear hunters shooting in the background, but really I could

>>find no reason to suspect the birds were being startled.


>>Marc Hoffman

>>Kirkland, WA


>>mailto: tweeters at dartfrogmedia dot com



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