She was the talk of Grenell Island—Murray Isle too. “Did you see the new set of ducklings? One of them is white.” Well, in all honesty, she wasn’t exactly white. Some days she looked yellow. Some days she looked tan? Whatever the hue de jour she was definitely different.
By the time our daughter Michelle arrived, the “different duckling” was out of that fluffy-duckling-stage and had grown feathers that were mostly white, but with patches of tan and brown. Our daughter promptly dubbed her Betty White, because she had sass. She was our own little Golden Girl.
Everyone was curious. Was Betty an “ugly duckling”? Did another waterfowl lay an egg in her mother’s nest? Would she grow up to be a swan? Or some other type of waterfowl? She’s fully grown now and she’s not a swan. She’s not a merganser or goldeneye either. She looks like an oddly colored mallard.
Initially, I suggested that perhaps Betty was the result of her mom breeding with a domestic duck. To me, she looked like a domestic duckling. But were there domestic ducks along the river for Mama Duck to have a dalliance with? I felt rather guilty besmirching the reputation of the Mama Duck. By all appearances, she was a good mother.
Some referred to Betty as “the albino” duck. But she wasn’t truly white and if she were truly an albino wouldn’t she have red or pink eyes? If she’s not an albino and she’s not a cross-bred, what is she? A little poking around on the Internet provided me with the term “leucistic mallard”.
Whatever she is, I worried about her. Light-colored animals are easy prey for predators because they aren’t well camouflaged, For that reason, they are sometimes rejected by their parents or siblings—shunned, pushed away. Mama Duck seemed to treat Betty While like any other of her ducklings. But her siblings did not. No, they didn’t shun her, but rather they were always clustered around her. Betty White was always surrounded by her siblings, almost as if they were protecting her. Leucism is a what scientists call an animal when it loses some or all of its pigmentation and appears pale with patches of normal color. Leucistic animals often retain their regular eye color. That sounds like our girl! Truthfully, I have no idea whether Betty White is a male or female mallard. I wonder what a male leucistic mallard would look like if it doesn’t have a green head. So Betty may be Bert for all I know.
Betty White is a full-sized duck now. She’s about the same size as her siblings. No longer do they cluster around her. She’s out in front of the pack, leading the way! When we moved our bridge to a narrower portion of the channel between our point and the rest of Grenell, the ducks were a little put out with us. The water was still too high for the ducks to swim under the bridge. Previously, they could swim around the bridge. Now, they had had to get out and walk around the bridge. They were none too happy about this and Betty White complained vehemently any time she had to walk around our bridge. When we raised the bridge on cement blocks, Betty White was the first to swim under it with her siblings following behind.
We haven’t seen Betty White much since she’s learned to fly. I did see her fly into our little cove the other day with her siblings. In the past, all the ducks look alike, and we always wonder if the adult ducks we’re feeding this year were the ducklings we encountered last year. We won’t have that problem with Betty White! I hope when duck season starts, her light color doesn’t make her more of a target. I hope she survives her migration south and back to the islands next season.
Ancient cultures from around the world regard white animals as sacred. Some of the sacred white animals around the world include the white star lions of South Africa; the Ghost Bear of British Columbia; the white elephants of India, Thailand, and Myanmar; and the White Buffalo of the Lakotas. Most legends identify the white animals as a symbol of hope and restored balance. Perhaps white animals are considered sacred because they are so rare.
I’m hoping Betty White symbolizes restored balance to our water levels. I hope when we see Betty White next season, she’ll be swimming under our bridge and not over it.
By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island
This month Lynn has found interesting island wildlife! Have you seen something that is also unusual? We once had a true Albino Raccoon on our island... all fine until she tried to climb into the kitchen window!
Lynn McElfresh came to Grenell Island for the first time to meet her fiancé’s family, in 1975. She became part of the family, and the island became part of her life. Lynn and her husband, Gary, spend their summers in the Thousand Islands and their winters in Dunedin, Florida. To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn McElfresh.
And last month we announce Lynn's first of nine novels... Grenell 1881, now on sale in several River locations. See our TI Life Review and... buy it, read it and enjoy it!
Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 9, September 2019, Nature
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