One morning recently, I spotted a male mallard duck under my bedroom window. He was walking with what seemed to be a determined demeanor.
A few minutes later, a female mallard followed him in the same direction with the same determination in her behavior.
I guessed that he was looking for a nesting place, and she was following him to see if it met with her approval.
This is an example of the variety of behaviors among wild animals that have always fascinated me. There are puzzlements of nature all around us - we just have to look.
The incident brought to my wife's mind the popular classic children's picture book, "Make Way for Ducklings," in which a mother mallard lays her eggs far away from the pond in Boston Commons. When they hatch, she has to lead them through busy city traffic to take them to the water that will be their home.
Evidently, our Mrs. Mallard did not approve of the nesting spot her mate chose, as they turned around and walked back the way they had come, and we haven't seen them again.
Another common bird in our area is the Canada goose. A few days after we saw the ducks, we saw a Canada goose caught between two electric power lines on our street. A neighbor phoned for help but before anyone got here, the goose disentangled himself and flew away.
"How could that goose do that?" I puzzled.
Probably many people recognize the name mallard and the duck's appearance because its plumage is so uniquely colored. The male has an iridescent green head with a yellow bill and a white neckband setting it off above his gray body. On the other hand, the female is drab in color, mostly brown with only one band, called the speculum, of iridescent blue on her wings.
Mallards are dabblers, getting food from near the surface of the water. You can see them tail-up, head down in search of their nourishment unlike ducks that dive deep to feed off the bottom of the stream or pond.
Mallards can be found almost any place in the world, and they are the most common single duck in North America. We see them frequently at Mosquito Lake, but were surprised to see them in our yard about two miles away from that body of water. I learned that they like wetlands, and we do have some wetlands near us, so maybe that is where they came from.
On the other hand, one of my grandsons has a swimming pool in his backyard that is covered over the winter. Every year when they take the cover off, ducks come to swim, knowing that it is a safe spot. These may be varieties of dabblers, related to the mallards because the mallards mate with other species.
The male mallard is faithful to his mate as they find the nesting spot and she lays her clutch of eggs, but then, I was disappointed to learn in my research, he excuses himself and goes to find the rest of the males in the nearest "bar room."
This reminds me of some human behavior that we are all familiar with.
One other time, in the past, we saw another female mallard walking around our yard in the city. She decided upon a nesting place among the exposed roots of a sycamore tree very near the street. She laid one egg and disappeared.
We checked on the nest every day for nearly a week, but there was never another egg. We never saw the mother mallard again, and finally there was only the broken shell in the nest. With all the dogs, cats and the many kinds of birds there were around, I was surprised at how long the single egg survived - another puzzlement of nature.
I told this story to a medical professional and described it as a mystery. He said it was not a mystery, we just don't know why such things happen. There's the scientific approach to puzzlements of nature.