I found a Mallard family, June 23, 2021, on Springwood Lake in Richmond, Indiana. I knew the chicks were just born because I had been going to the lake each day to photograph other waterfowl. I know that the mothers will take the ducklings to water as soon as they hatch so they can begin feeding themselves. I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to see the nest.
I decided to not only photograph them but to record video as well. So, it was up at five and at the lake before dawn each day for the next three months. I was lucky the mother didn’t mind having me follow them around or I would never have been able to capture such a story in the wild. She got so used to me being around her chicks that I was able to stand in the river on the rock beds where they were feeding.
It didn’t take long to figure out their daily routine which was pretty consistent the first two months. Initially, I would find them each morning at the waterfalls on the river that runs through the park. The river is about 75 yards from the lake. They would spend a couple of hours each morning feeding at the falls before they made their way upstream to find a place to nap. Then back to feeding again. Each day I waited for them to get swept over the falls but they never did. If they traveled too far upstream, I would lose them. I was not able to follow all of the riverbank because of all the trees and underbrush. If I waited long enough, she would walk them to the lake later in the afternoon to explore different places on the lake.
As she swam them along the lakeshore, I would try to stay ahead of them to film as they came towards me. She would have the entire lake to get out on the shore but many times she would get them out right where I was standing. They became really comfortable with having me around. They would preen for a while then down for another nap. There were also many times she would go for a fly while they slept leaving them with me.
Unlike other wildlife I have observed, she had no interaction with her chicks. There was never any display of affection, cleaning, snuggling, etc. This may have been different on cool summer nights when the baby ducklings would still need her warmth, however, it was never anything that I observed. The mother was always in a constant state of alert and awareness, always standing erect and on guard. She didn’t spend much time feeding herself but was extremely patient while they fed, again, always keeping guard. The chicks, however, would often snuggle together when sleeping and would many times have short moments of interaction. The chicks were never aggressive towards each other but had no problem stealing food from one another.
There are many other ducks and geese on the lake and river. She always managed to avoid them or chase them off, at least for the first couple of months when her ducklings were small. There was a female juvenile Hooded Merganser that was always looking for a friend to hang out with. Most of the time the mother Mallard would try to chase the little Merganser off but other times she would tolerate her.
Needless to say, it was exciting to see their first flight. The research I had done said they would begin flying between 50 and 60 days. They were right on schedule, 54 days, with a crash landing. I had this great expectation all along of getting a video clip of them all taking off flying at the same time. Little did I know that just when they began to fly, she would molt her flight feathers and couldn’t fly. Now they would fly back and forth from the river to the lake without her. She had to walk, quacking all the way to the lake. She would swim and quack until she located them.
They hung together for a couple of weeks after they could all fly. During that time, they would sometimes go off on their own but would always get back together as a family. I wasn’t certain when I would be finished following them. After I spent a week without being able to find them together, I decided the time had come.
So, this is how I spent the summer of, 2021. I have to say it couldn’t have been better. I only fell in the river once even though I was walking and standing in it every day. That’s only the third river I have fallen into with my camera gear through the years but those are stories for a different time.
Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II + 1.4x
Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II + 2x
4K D 4096 x 2160 59.94P IPB Light