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The Mallard and the Red-Tail

This month, we will take a closer look at a couple of our most common summer residents.The first is the Mallard duck, stereotypically cast as a duck with a green head and little curly feathers on its tail. Actually, only the male has these characteristics; the female is more modestly clothed in shades of buff and dark brown.The Mallard is the most abundant duck on the face of the planet, with its distribution covering most of the Northern Hemisphere. The Mallard is the species that was domesticated into the many varieties of domestic ducks we have today. It’s the species usually eating bread crumbs on the banks of the city park. It’s the species harvested by hunters in greater numbers than any other duck. It’s the species most commonly seen loafing on the little prairie pond.It is a wonderfully adaptive duck, able to raise a family in the middle of town at a park with scores of people coming and going or on a pond tucked into some lonely corner of the wilderness, where a person may not come within five miles of it all summer. Perhaps the Mallard is best known for its quack, a sound mainly associated with ducks. In reality, only the female Mallard and a few of her relatives quack. Even the male Mallard doesn’t quack but emits a sound that is perhaps best spelled as raeb-raeb.Another common resident is the Red Tail Hawk. One hawk, framed against a blue sky amidst a few white clouds, has to be one of the most beautiful sights. You can usually see a Red Tailor two sitting along the telephone poles, and, if you are lucky, you may see it swoop down and pounce on a potential meal, which frequently gets away, especially if the hawk is young and inexperienced. The Red Tail usually nests in a large stick-nest in a tree, frequently seen in a large cottonwood.The Red Tail Hawk is perhaps the most loved and the most misunderstood raptor in the country. They are admired by birdwatchers for their beauty and adaptability and hated by many misinformed farmers. Often a chicken is lost to a hawk; the Red Tail unjustly receives the blame and is subsequently shot for the crime.In almost all cases, the culprit is one of the accipiter hawks, a group of three species of smaller hawks. Those hawks attack in a split second and immediately fly into the forest, rarely to be seen by even the most observant. Meanwhile, the farmer hears a commotion, dashes outside to find nothing left but a few chicken feathers and spots a Red Tail overhead. He instantly shoots what could be his best friend. The Red Tail is a beneficial bird, eating mainly rodents. The Red Tail should be loved and protected by birdwatchers and farmers.

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