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Conservation-A Duck Of A Little Different Color By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director

January 24, 2019
Northern-Sun Print
I ran into someone the other day and they said “I thought you retired.” I told him while I have been giving it thought I’m still around. Well, it turned out that because Nick had been writing the past few news columns, he assumed that I had retired. I’m back – at least for awhile yet! Grundy/Marshall County State Conservation Officer, Tyson Brown, stopped in the other day and mentioned two oddities that he encountered this fall. He had pictures on his phone for me to see. I asked him to send me those pics so that I could share them with you. So, for this column we will talk about a wooduck and mallard duck cross. The two ducks are dissimilar enough that I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Well. I googled it and boy was I wrong. I quite honestly was surprised by the answer that my research yielded. The story starts with Tyson checking the hunters who shot it after they were coming out from their hunt south of Dike. The duck has obvious characteristics of a wooduck even though you might at first glance think it to be a drake mallard. My first question was “How often does this happen?” My internet search found that waterfowl crossbreed more often than any other family of birds. Scientists have recorded more than 400 hybrid combinations among waterfowl species. Mallards and wood ducks in particular have demonstrated the capability of hybridizing with a surprisingly wide range of other species. In the case of this duck, it had the characteristic green head of a drake mallard. But looking at the bill there was the black marking found on wooducks. The breast and sides looked more wood duck than mallard and the wings, as well. There was also a hint of a crest that male wooducks possess. So, my next question was “Could a hybrid such as this duck reproduce?” I learned that they sometimes are capable of reproducing, however, most waterfowl hybrid offspring are infertile. The odds, then, were not in his favor. But say this particular bird was fertile, there would still obstacles that he would have needed to overcome. Many waterfowl hybrids may be unable to attract mates because they are not recognized by individuals of either parent species as their own kind. Hybrids often exhibit intermediate physical characteristics and behaviors that render them unable to attract a mate. Male hybrids, in particular, may not have the attractive plumage or the ability to perform courtship rituals necessary to establish and maintain pair bonds. I did ask Tyson what was going to become of the duck? I was told that the hunter who bagged the oddity was planning to have it mounted. I sure would.

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