• J. Woken

Mallard Migration

I’ll keep this one short, because I know you’re busy. We’re all busy. Even if "busy' means being stagnant, in our homes, with our families. Nesting, if you will, in a safe, warm place.

The rush of events related to the COVID-19 virus—simply the speed at which things are progressing and changing (and the speed at which we must adapt) added to the already fast-paced life America has come to know (and which Millennials are now fighting hard against)—has gotten us all distracted from the developments in the natural world: Spring is here, and we’re largely missing it.

Just today I was driving to Red Wing for supplies and spotted a lonely pond in the middle of a farmer’s field. Splashing in that pond were a pair of ducks: mallards, one satisfied looking, green-headed drake and his plucky lady, who was busy puddling and arranging a few stalks of grass. I only assume eggs were nestled nearby, or were on their way to being laid.

Not too long ago—back before the snow had melted away to reveal muddy, mucky corn fields—I was driving back from Hastings and had to slow down to absorb a wonderful sight of nature. In fact, I was so fascinated I turned around to go back and take in some more! Acres and acres of migrating birds had stopped in an open field for a rest. Sunlit and beautiful, the sight was worthy of a few photos. Mallards and Trumpter Swan congregated, mostly in male-female pairs, but there were a few gangs of unlucky drakes consoling one another, likely eager birds who had yet to find a mate.

Mallards and Trumpter Swan salt and pepper a snowy corn field just north of Cannon Falls. / Jessica Woken

Mallards have been migrating northward for the past few weeks, and they’re nesting now, too. The earliest ducklings will hatch around about April and through May, after 28 days of incubation. Mallards will actually lay eggs through July, so there will be a few late broods of ducklings dotted throughout the summer months, too. Soon enough we’ll be seeing the fluffy babes swimming in streams and ponds and lakes and rivers—all those 10,000 and more water worlds dotted across our Minnesota local wild—dutifully following their mothers in neat little lines that melt all the hearts and, even more, a few lucky ducks will make the “feel good” local news spots.

Their southern migration will begin again in late August, and the process starts all over again.

But, for now, the mallards are still coming, as are other migratory birds: Canada geese, snow geese, swan, grouse, songbirds, even bald eagles are on the move. Look up and you’ll see big flapping V’s crossing the spring-blue sky. Stop. Watch them. Breathe for a moment. Take it in.

My family, also, is migrating. We’re headed back west from which we came, just as the birds are returning to the places which they once left. It’s been a delightful journey here in the Minnesota local wild—so beautiful, varied, educational, life-changing—and we’re taking many memories and fondness for this wonderful state with us.

Local Wild will continue to be written, but from a different locale. A heartfelt “Thank you” to the Cannon Falls Beacon for printing this column. Minnesota readers who have enjoyed this column may continue to follow along and learn about a more westerly local wild by reading posts on our blog site, Perhaps it will encourage you to make a temporary migration out that direction. I assure you: There is plenty to write about—and see—out there!