Several years ago (10 maybe), during a visit to Central Park in New York City, I noticed a very tame male Wood Duck hanging out with a flock of Mallards. I’ve spent hours upon hours on remote New England ponds trying to get decent photographs of Wood Ducks and here was one acting like it was a tame Mallards. The behavior struck me as odd because Wood Ducks, in all my previous observations, are usually extremely wary.
I had pretty much forgotten about this sighting until the other day when I visited Wood’s Pond in Norwalk, Conn., a frequent haunt of mine. A lingering Great Blue Heron
(click “continue reading” for another photo of the female Wood Duck)
stalked the shoreline and a bunch of Hooded Mergansers were spread out in small flocks throughout the pond. Then a large group of Mallards started swimming toward my car. Just the resident, tame Mallards, I thought. It’s always a good idea to check out flocks for something unusual, though. Snow Geese can sometimes be found among flocks of Canada Geese, for instance. So I checked out this flock of Mallards, but found nothing out of the ordinary — at first.
Then more Mallards swam slowly along the shore to join the initial Mallard flock. Something looked different about this new flock, however. Sure enough, a female Wood Duck was included in the flock. Would the lone Wood Duck among the flock act like a Wood Duck or a Mallard, I wondered. Just like the male Wood Duck I had seen at Central Park years ago, this female Woodie acted very much like a Mallard. It followed the Mallards out of the water and into the parking lot. They figured out quickly that I wasn’t going to throw them any bread (or anything else for that matter) so they all retreated back into the water. The Wood Duck stuck out from the larger Mallards, but seemed comfortable within the flock. The Mallards, likewise, seemed to have no problem with the Wood Duck.
Wood Ducks and Mallards sometime cross breed and have hybrid Mallard X Wood Duck offspring. My guess is that this was not the case with this grouping. My guess (note, it’s just a guess) is that the Wood Duck somehow got separated from its flock and simply started hanging out with this flock of Mallards. It will likely remain with the flock throughout winter and return to other Wood Ducks next spring for the breeding season. Either way, it was nice to see the Wood Duck, especially so close. Female Wood Ducks are not as flashy as male Wood Ducks, but as you can see from the photos, they are lookers in their own right.