An odd duck, for now

Molting wood duck "in hiding"
He had the good sense to be hiding in the shadows.  The ugliest duck I ever saw.  What’s more, three other equally ugly ducks were parked on the log beside him, their fear and embarrassment almost palpable.

Strange ducks, in a row (North Pond, Chicago)
All were plump, mature birds.  Their beaks were pink, their legs a muddy yellow.  They had thick red rings around their eyes.  Their speckled breasts were smooth, but their markings were indistinct, their heads and necks scruffy.  The feathers on their backs, which were black, didn’t look crisp and flat the way bird feathers usually do.

These birds were not from some strange species.  It turns out they are male wood ducks who are molting.  During molting, the ducks can’t fly and are vulnerable to predators until their new feathers grow in.

A male wood duck at Chicago's North Pond sports his fresh plumage.From their perch in the shadows, they gazed enviously at this fellow wood duck whose new feathers had come in.  The day couldn’t come soon enough when they looked just like him.  The birds begin to pair after acquiring their new plumage.

Female wood duck at Chicago's North Pond.Female wood ducks also acquire their flying feathers before setting out on their southern migration.  Their big, mysterious journey is about to begin.

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