Saturday, December 07, 2002

Fourteen, Three, and Two

Those are the numbers of waterfowl still present yesterday afternoon in the one remaining small area of open water on Caledonia Pond in eastern Berkeley County, West Virginia: 14 Canada Geese, 3 Ring-necked Ducks, and 2 Ruddy Ducks. A scene of impending tragedy. Will the companionship and reassuring presence of the Canada Geese lure the Ring-necked Ducks and Ruddy Ducks to their deaths? If need be, the Canada Geese can easily crawl up onto the surface of the ice (just as a few birds were yesterday) and take wing from there. The Ring-necked Ducks and Ruddy Ducks are less likely to be able to do so. These diving birds are superby designed for underwater pursuit of their aquatic prey. But these adaptations have also left them with certain vulnerabilities. Their relatively heavy bodies and small wing areas makes it difficult for them to become airborne from the surface of the water. In fact, they usually do so only with great difficulty, and then only after paddling across the surface of the water for some distance with wings beating widly. If there is a stiff headwind blowing, so much the better. With air temperatures dropping to single digits this morning and with virtually no wind, it is doubtful that Caledonia Pond will have any open water at all this morning. Did the Ring-necked Ducks and Ruddy Ducks have the sense to leave the security of the open water while they still could, or will they find themselves trapped in the ice, facing certain death in winter's cruel grasp?

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