Mystery duck

Mystery duck

By Rod Myers, Naturalist

The identity of an unusual duck described in the “On the water On The Waterfront” article in last week’s TRRT remains a mystery. The duck, which I observed on the Rock River on the first night of On The Waterfront, which I guessed was a melanistic female juvenile bufflehead, may not be that at all. At this point, the duck’s identity has not been solved, and some local bird experts are baffled.

Birdwatcher and videographer Bob Cole videotaped the duck Sept. 5th and remarked that he couldn’t tell what it is. Cole said the duck was calling like a lesser scaup, and it reminded him of that species, but the noisey little duck didn’t dive, which lesser scaups do. “The duck was not scared of people,” said Cole. It certainly isn’t, and I made note of that in the previous article. When all the other ducks moved away from the crowds of people when the OTW Festival began, the friendly little mystery duck stayed close to the people as though it was hand raised, and it even became more vocal.

On the Wednesday after the festival, I was watching the duck at the usual hangout in back of the Rockford Public Library when a Native American who referred to himself as Yellow Arrow approached the duck and observed it for at least 10 minutes. Obviously, he was drawn to the bird. “I’ve been watching the bird for two weeks,” said the man. “It’s not an American breeder; it’s Canadian. I’ve seen them up there.”

Scott Caring observed the duck on Friday the 6th. He wasn’t sure what it was. “It looked like some weird teal. I never saw it dive. It acted like a puddle duck. Maybe it’s a green-winged teal- mallard cross with some black glossy domesticated mallard. Sort of a big puddle duck/little puddle duck hybrid.

“Green-winged teal are small, and this weird little female is small, but it sure isn’t afraid of people. I guess I’d have to mark this bird down as some strange hybrid, possible exotic.”

FYI: Diving ducks are those species that dive underwater, completely submerging themselves and often swimming long distances underwater to catch food. Puddle ducks feed in shallow water, often tipping upside down to glean mud and other shallow underwater sediments for food.

Barb Williams, the volunteer biologist for the Burpee Museum of Natural History, described the bird on the bird hot line (965-3095) as a possible bufflehead hybrid with asymmetrical markings which may have been a captive bird because it’s hanging around with mallards, and it doesn’t appear to be afraid of people.

The duck’s basic color is black, but it has areas of gray and some small blotches of white on its chest. It has a small spot of white on its cheek an inch below the eye, but it is not directly below the eye but more towards the ear. Barb Williams said this mark is only on one side of the head. There are some white edgings on the duck’s right wing secondary feathers; they do not appear on the left wing. This bird is small for a duck, 12″ to 13″ in length. Some have said the beak is too long for a bufflehead, but it may perhaps look longer than it is because it is dark in color. It will be interesting to see when the word gets out how many and from how many miles away the people will come to share their spin on the who, what, and where of this little, nearly all-black duck.

“Little, nearly all-black duck”—parody of the song “Little Black Duck”:

Little, nearly all-black duck, sittin’ in the water,

Little, nearly all-black duck, doin’ what she oughter,

Little, nearly all-black duck, leave some epiderma;

Then we’ll check your DNA and solve the big dilemma.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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