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Commentary: Eleven little mallards, swimming in a row

There are many wonders in this great land ─ including the Grand Canyon of Arizona (averages 10 miles across and one mile deep) and Mount Denali (McKinley), 20,308 feet high in Alaska ─ but sometimes the most awesome wonders are the simplest.

We have one right now in our neighborhood. We have a Mallard hen who swims by with a brood of 11 little duckies, quietly swimming behind her in single file. That's right, 11 little duckies all in a row. More often they're in a cluster, bouncing around in the water following Mama Mallard who quickly moves them away from foxes, skunks, turtles and curious humans.

These little fluffies have just hatched, less than a month ago. They're in their "fledgling" period. Yet they've known how to swim and feed themselves since day one. They're eating beetles, dragon flies, worms and ducking their heads under the water eating aquatic vegetation.

We seldom see a brood as large as 11. A clutch of eggs before hatch is only 8 - 13. Most mamas have only about a half dozen children. As the days go on, sometimes the little parade has one or two less than before. Snakes, turtles, raccoons or bald eagles may pick them off on shore or northerns and muskies can gulp them from below in the water.

There are other hazards as well. Recently, over 80 Mallards died at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. It was determined that the cause of death was parasites inside the snails the ducks were eating. The pool was drained, cleaned and reopened on June 19.

As we watch the tiny guys bobbing along behind their mother we feel the excitement of Mother Nature's circle of life. What a wonderful creation we live in. It's hard to believe that these little squirts still have to grow up before the lake freezes in the next four and half months, learn to fly and get the heck out of here before winter.

When the little Mallards get to be 50-60 days old, their fledgling period is over and they enter their juvenile stage and start wandering away from mama.

When they are between three and four months old, they'll begin flying. When they're ready to fly, they'll develop a cluster (speculum) of purple feathers. Then they'll know they have their wings.

By November, they'll be winging south for the winter. To think they were tiny little puffballs in June. They'll be cruising at about 40 miles an hour at 400 to 2,000 feet above the ground. But on a long day with a strong tailwind, they can fly up to 800 miles.

Until they leave for Florida, we'll be watching them everyday, still parading around, still Mama's little duckies at this point, but growing daily, and hoping they all survive the summer in their hometown, remember where they came from (they always do), survive the winter, return as adults and keep the cycle spinning. And, to complete nature's miracle, we hope we're here to greet them when they come home.

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