By: Wendy Langhans
There he stood – gleaming in the sunlight – all decked out in his Sunday best – with a white blob sticking out of his left nostril. Reflexively, I almost reached into my pocket for a tissue, so I could tidy him up a bit. As I zoomed in with my camera for a closer look, the weird-looking white blob transformed into something more fluffy. Ah – a feather! That made sense, since “he” was an adult Mallard Duck.
So how did that feather get stuck up his nose? I can think of two possible explanations. First, he may have been preening his feathers with his beak and a stray feather got stuck in his nostril.
Second, our duck may have just woken up from a nap. When a duck sleeps, it turns its head backwards and tucks it into its shoulder feathers (scapulars). It’s easy to see how a loose feather could become stuck up his nose.
Option number two raises an interesting question: is it wise for ducks to take naps in the middle of the day? Haven’t they ever heard of the expression “sitting duck”? Aren’t they afraid of some predator sneaking up on them?
Well – it seems that ducks have a way of dealing with the threat of potential predators – they nap with one eye closed and ONE EYE OPEN. Technically, this is known as unihemispheric sleep, where one half of the brain sleeps while the other half remains awake. You can tell which side of the brain is awake by noticing which eye is open. An open left eye means the right hemisphere is awake, while an open right eye means the left hemisphere is awake.
What else do we know about napping ducks? According to this Audubon guide, “Just like us, birds exhibit two types of sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep.” REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep does not occur during unihemispheric sleep, because that type of sleep requires both hemispheres to be involved. However, “SWS sleep can occur in one or both brain hemispheres at a time”, which suggests that duck naps consist of slow-wave sleep (SWS).
Do we know anything about duck dreams? Nothing conclusive. We do know that, among humans, most dreams occur during REM sleep. This suggests that ducks do not dream while they are napping, which is probably a good thing. For a moment, imagine yourself a duck, napping with one eye open. Suddenly, you “see” yourself about to be attacked by a coyote. How many precious seconds of escape time would you waste, deciding if “this is real or only a bad dream”? For those precious few seconds, you really would be a sitting duck.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, May 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30.
Saturday mornings, May 12 & 26.
May 19, 8-9 AM at Towsley Canyon. Busy Birds of May. May is a busy month for birds; time for the youngsters to test their wings and leave the nest. Beginning birders are welcom. Binoculars optional. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For directions and a trail map, click here.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has just created a new website with trail maps for our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com/.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains.