Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Muscovy Duck Intervention

Mounds of Zoysia matrella (Manila grass) along banks of canal leading to the sea

I was walking along the main thoroughfare Lloyd G. Smith Boulevard in Aruba last week when I came upon an odd sight in Wilhelmina Park.

The tiny Zoysia matrella (aka Manila grass) is a common turf grass in tropical countries, where it is sometimes known in the horticultural world by the incorrect name "Zoysia tenuifolia". It is in the subfamily Chloridoideae and forms thick beautiful sod using both aboveground stolons and underground rhizomes.

Muscovy duck strutting in Wilhelmina Park, Aruba.

I had been wandering around Wilhelmina Park, and was now looking at the river/canal that emptied into the sea, and lay between Governor's Beach and Renaissance Beach. Curious looking mounds of grass dotted the banks of the river, and so I walked gingerly to a particularly prominent cluster of these mounds. The mounds were soft to the touch and velvety looking, and rising from them were multitudes of very tiny flowerheads.

Zoysia matrella flowerheads

I had never seen so many flowering Z. matrella before, and  because they were so tiny (less than 5 mm length) I had to take some time photographing. I was so engrossed in my work that I almost jumped up in surprise when I heard a hissing sound almost next to me.

A really weird looking bird had suddenly appeared, and it was strutting back and forth close to me in what I took to be a threatening manner. In many ways it looked like a regular duck, but it had a red warty face that only a mother could love.

Zoysia matrella flowerhead showing white anthers and purplish stigma

It was also hissing like a snake, and bobbing its head up and down rapidly. I stepped warily away from it and prepared to defend myself, but the bird simply continued to look at me and bob its head up and down.

Did it have some nest hidden near the river bank? Was I somehow trespassing into its territory?

What I took to be the remnants of duck feathers next to Z. matrella flowerheads

I wondered too whether the duck had been using the mounds as a nest, because I found remnants of what seemed to be bird feathers on the grass surface. Perhaps I really was invading its turf (no pun intended), and so I immediately vacated the area and went back to the nearby path.

It was only much later when I googled and identified the critter, that I found out Muscovy ducks use the head bobbing motion as a friendly greeting. I also found out that this species could not quack like normal ducks, but instead hissed, and so there was nothing sinister about the sounds it was making!

I felt sorry I was slightly mean to the duck. I had tried shooing  it away from the mounds of Z. matrella, not knowing it was simply trying to be friendly. It may have been ugly as sin, but it meant well, and next time I'll learn to not so easily judge a book by its cover.

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