Boatman

The ducks fascinate me.  It is one of the breakthroughs I’ve had watching the river that connected one of my favorite pastimes – boating – with the duck’s activity.  It had never really struck me how much one can learn from watching these fellows.

We had a large rainstorm and the river was higher and faster than normal.  Anyone who has used a boat – I prefer sail and canoe – will know that, when crossing a current, your starting point will be upriver from your landing point, unless you do something to counter the current.  I was watching some Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos ) and they turned their bodies into the current, facing up river, and swam as fast as possible.  In this way, they went – sideways – across the river.

If they had gone face-forward to the other bank, they would have ended downriver.  It’s obvious when you think about it, but that was the point.  I’d never really thought about it.  Their feet are both engine and rudder so they need to shift their whole “craft” to accomplish what we often do with two separate tools.

Male mallard duck heading downstream, with orange feet just visible.

Mallards are as common as pennies.  But I learned that they are part of the dabbling ducks, a subfamily of ducks that do not dive for food.  Mallards are also sometimes called Wild Ducks.