The Cold Weather Brings A Beautiful New Set Of Feathers For Male Ducks.
The change of seasons in the northern climates is a time of contrasts. The beauty of dying leaves gives way to the glitter of an early frost.
The impending winter signaling an end to the year and the beginning of a long hibernation for many species of plants and animals.
But for some species, the end of warm weather begins the genesis of a new life-cycle. For ducks, the colder weather means the onset of the courtship process, in anticipation of spring mating.
Male ducks, also known as "drakes", undergo a drastic change to their feathers this time of year. Their metamorphosis from drab to spectacular is all in the effort to attract a mate.
"The females stay the same color all year long, it's just the males, and the prettier the male, the more females he gets, so they really put on a show," says Rosemary Miner, owner of Gooseneck Hill Waterfowl Sanctuary in Delevan, New York. "They court the females, and the prettier he is, he just displays himself, just like male chivalry."
The process in which ducks shed old feathers for new is known as moulting. Although the end product is often stunning, and always integral to mating, moulting is not easy, and takes a hard physical toll on the drakes.
"It's a big change for them, it's like someone recovering from an operation pretty much, it would be similar to that," says Milt Miner, Rosemary's husband and the other owner of the sanctuary. "They go through a very physical change, it takes a lot out of them."
The strongest males move through the moulting and begin courting the most desirable females. This part of the process can take awhile. Actual breeding takes place in the spring, and the eggs hatch during early summer.
Rosemary compares them to another familiar species. "It's just like people, you court a female for years before you mate, get married and have babies, and ducks are the same way, they court the female for months, and she'll finally pick one she wants, and that's the one she'll stay with during breeding season."
The beautiful plumage serves a second purpose. Underneath their fall finery is a layer of down, which acts as a great insulator during the winter months. This is critical, because in contrast to the rest of the hibernating world, ducks are most active during this frigid season.
"That really keeps them a lot warmer, and the females will pull out the down and use it in their nest in the springtime or early summer," says Milt. "It's very important for them, they could not survive the winter unless they had that nice heavy down underneath them."
"They get more active in the winter than they are in the summer," says Rosemary. "In the summer, they're more laid back because they're moulting and it's hard on their bodies, and they kind of just lay around. In the wintertime, that's when they're flying and courting and calling."
And so it goes...the cycle of life on planet Earth, the end of one season inevitably leading to the next...one life ends, another begins, and each results in an amazing expression of nature's endless beauty.
"They all do their own thing, they're all different in the way they display, what they go through," says Milt. "It's quite a unique process from breed to breed."
"Really a great experience," says Rosemary. "Nature is great, you know, really nice to see."
Gooseneck Hill Waterfowl Farm is located in Delevan, New York, and is open to the public during the summer and to groups through the fall. They're always looking for volunteers and other assistance! To find out more, visit their website at: