Park visitor and contributing photographer Evie Williams captured these beautiful images of a Mallard mom and her trail of chicks on May 11. Although the Mom kept an eye on the photographer, she showed no fear and did not change her course. Mallards generally have adapted so smoothly to human settlement that their numbers have been increasing, in contrast to many other bird species. Evie’s photos nicely demonstrate three features of Mallard chicks. Note that they are all the same size, more or less. The mom only lays an egg every other day, so that it took just short of three weeks to lay the eggs that produced these ten chicks. But Mom starts brooding the chicks (sitting on the eggs) only after she has laid the last egg, or close to it. As a result, they all hatch about the same time and come out the same size. By comparison, the Barn Owl mom, for example, starts brooding an egg as soon as she lays it, with the result that her chicks come out sized like organ pipes, with the oldest quite a big bigger than the youngest; see “Barn Babies” Oct 16 2020. The other quality that Evie’s photos demonstrate is the chicks’ ability to see and hike and swim from the moment they hatch. In scientific terms, they are precocial. The third point is perhaps obvious: the chicks are imprinted on their Mom, and follow her around wherever she goes. She will defend them fiercely, but there are many predators that target little chicks. In about two months the survivors will be able to fly.
Thank you, Evie, for these lovely pictures.