Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Lone mother goose spotted raising brood of ducklings

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Q:
We have friends who live just off West Center Road in West Stockbridge. The spring started with a pair of ducks (I don't know what kind) and a pair of Canada geese nesting close to a nearby pond. The parents of the ducklings disappeared, as well as the gander, so the goose is parenting both her goslings and the ducklings by herself. I think there are eight babies total and they all follow one behind the other in and out of the water. Is this a common phenomenon?

— Janine, West Stockbridge, Mass.

A: Many songbirds are duped by the cowbird that sneaks its egg into the nest of another species that will incubate the foreign egg as its own and raise it. A far smaller adult warbler raising a larger cowbird chick might be akin to a gander caring for a duckling.

I will have more on this next week. In the meantime, I cannot say how common the goose and duck connection occurs, but according to a forum I look at from time to time, geese sometimes will successfully raise ducklings. I can't help wondering what happened to the missing adults and if it was a predator, why it did not continue and prey upon the ducklings. Foxes, raccoons, bears, coyotes, crows, hawks, eagles, and I imagine mink and weasels, are common predators on even the adult ducks, goslings and ducklings.

Q: Why do those orange salamanders walk around the woods after it rains and then go to ponds and become brown salamanders with tiny red spots? Up at the State Forest pond I see a lot of them, even ones that look like they are changing.

— Francis, Pittsfield, Mass.

A: I am not sure and am not alone. There are a few thoughts or explanations, though. It may be to escape being eaten by aquatic (water-living) predators, like fish; avoid competition for food from others of their kind; or leave one pond to find another less populated one. Any one of these suggestions seem plausible. And by the way, these orange amphibians are called red efts, though they are orange and they are most often seen following a rain or in early morning when it is cool and the leaf litter is damp. These are terrestrial, living on land, and I think of them as the teenage (juvenile) stage of the red-spotted newt, the aquatic stage in one of the 10 families of salamanders. (Think of the newt as you would all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises or all woodpeckers are birds, but not all birds are woodpeckers. And all newts — and efts — are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts or efts.     



DON'T FEED THE BEARS!


"As our biologists learn more and more about our bears, evidence continues to mount that the public must take steps to insure these iconic mammals do not habituate to people. To feed bears intentionally or not, is to train them to go in harm's way: jeopardizing their lives, increasing the incidence of negative human-bear interactions, and threatening the continued growth and range expansion of their population." — 2009 Massachusetts Wildlife (Magazine).

I cannot say how many times I and local outdoors writers have cautioned against feeding potentially dangerous wildlife, such as the black bear, since then. I learned recently of another doing just that, this time in Windsor. It is downright foolish, dangerous to humans and to the bear, both diet-wise and longevity as a bear with little fear of humans — that's us — eventually spells an early death. Let the bear live wild and long!

Questions and comments: Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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