Michelle Moultrie

Michelle Moultrie

2018 NJCAA National Finals - Laker Softball

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Vicious Mallard westward migration continues to baffle ornithologists

Monday, May 7, 2018

ST. GEORGE, UT--For nearly a decade, ornithologists have been trying to decipher the unique migratory patterns of the Vicious Mallard, a highly mobile species that heads south in mid-winter, returns north for the worst weather days of Spring, and then, about the time the climate becomes comfortable, the entire flock suddenly migrates west.

This particular flock of Vicious Mallards actually change colors, but typically display red and black in such a way that they all appear similar. No one knows for sure, but scientific research is narrowing the color scheme down to a white-haired drake that somehow communicates how the flock appears.

Ornithologists believe they've spotted a Vicious Mallard ritual that signals a westward migration is imminent.

On or about the first weekend of May, the Vicious Mallards gather near the Illinois city of Centralia where they display highly unusual behavior. They seem to focus on yellow spheres ornithologists believe the Vicious Mallards see as some sort of "golden egg."

Oddly, they wing the spheres to each other, as if attempting to control the yellow orbs. The Vicious Mallards are quite adept at wing tossing, but occasionally one of the orb flights goes awry, which seems to irritate the white-haired drake.

After fifteen minutes or so, after the green turf is spotted with the circular yellow objects, the white-haired drake twirls a wing and suddenly the entire flock is now racing to gather the orbs up for safe keeping.

But by far the most interesting aspect of the Centralia gathering, which normally lasts two days, is when another flock shows up. Then things get really hectic.

The wing tossing gets serious then. First one flock commands a small field where there always seem to be four white pillows laying around. Three are puffy and pretty much stuck in the dirt, but there's a fourth someone must've stomped flat, and it's at that flat pillow where the flocks get angry.

The flock in the field tries to keep the yellow orbs away, and the other flock gets unruly and grabs a stick. It's gets worse.

The flock in the field doesn't like that, so they toss a yellow orb near the one with the stick, sort of teasing. And the one with the stick gets to swinging at the orb, and every time it's missed, that flock gets up tight. But when they strike that orb and it goes flying, then there's a sort of controlled mayhem in the field, where you can witness Vicious Mallards racing every which way until they can get control of that orb.

Sometimes the flock with the stick cracks one orb after the next and for whatever reason, seem to want to run from pillow to pillow. If you watch carefully, the Vicious Mallards wing toss the orb ahead of where the flock of a different color is running, and will sometimes even touch them with the orb, and that seems to get them to give up.

By the time the other flock needs to rest from swinging the stick, usually three times, the Vicious Mallards seem angry enough to grab a stick of their own and take turns whacking at the yellow orbs that just moments earlier they wanted to possess. Odd, to be sure, but it gets weirder.

For instance, though each flock seems to battle each other over control of the yellow orbs, occasionally, one of those pillows gets dislodged, and everything stops. Suddenly it's like both flocks become unified in trying to figure out ways to get that pillow back in place. 

Before long, though, it's all about the orbs again. You would think the Vicious Mallards wouldn't consider harming those yellow spheres, but one by one, they get to swinging that stick. And one would think the white-haired drake, after becoming annoyed at the errant wing tossing, would like it better if the Vicious Mallards would simply swing and not hit the yellow orbs, but instead, really gets his feathers ruffled when the Vicious Mallards don't hit those orbs hard enough, and instead of quacking away over matters, he emits a barking sound while pointing and flapping his wings every which way.
Whtie-haired drake

Ornithologists think the near manic behavior of the white haired drake could be a ruse, because, at the end of that second day comes the giveaway that signals westward migration, or not.

Some bird-watchers wait all year, but if you're among them on that one day, at that moment when all the stick swinging and orb winging ceases, have your camera ready, because if the white-haired drake smiles, the westward migration will begin approximately one week later.

From the Midwest to a tight grouping of fields (with plenty of pillows stuck in the dirt) located in southern Utah, the red and black flock of Vicious Mallards take flight.

The scientific research of the westward migration is displayed in the table below.

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