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Mallards Brave New England’s Winter Surf

Air Date: Week of

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The mallards brave the foaming waves at the shore, even in winter (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

New England winters can be harsh even in a good year – yet some mallard ducks brave the cold and pounding surf at the shoreline. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender watches their struggles against wild wind and water.


CURWOOD: It may have been relatively warm up in far northern latitudes, but in New England, especially along the coastline, there’s been a fair share of cold and storms and blizzards. That may have tempted many of us to huddle ‘round the fire, but our resident explorer, Mark Seth Lender, has been observing wintering mallards, who’ve been having a tough time.


LENDER: The weather has it in for them. Mostly the wind and the waves that follow auguring no good thing to come. There will be storms. And here, in the shallows where the surface tears itself apart, no leaning to, no calm. For the mallards, no respite anywhere.

A mallard preening. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The sea rolls, high and hard breaking. They stoop, low, and pull through the tumult and the roar, in a backlit spray of water. Tipped, like so many listing ships. Before they can right themselves the swell picks them up once more, and the ocean pours over them. In the spitting, the white rasping anger of the sea they bob and dip and tuck themselves in. And the water, a horizontal waterfall, tosses and toys with them like sticks, like sodden leaves, not live and feeling things, chasing, racing, crowding them towards shore.

But shore is not what they want. They cleave instead to a middle ground, between rough water and the sand. They hover, as best they can, above the rocks where the weed is green and crusted with tiny and delicious things, to nourish against this hard time of the year. Against their will they are carried away and cannot feed because they cannot hold there, and the cold bores into them.

And again they rove through the rough and the roar and the shirring foam. They shake their heads and face into the wind.

Mallards leave the water for the air at as hard an angle as flight will sustain towards the fog-bound sun. Then wheel and glide, their back-peddling wings like feathered oars. And down onto the sand. They shrug, the drakes, their heads bright green and violet glistening. That patch of purple-blue like semaphore on the hens’ drab flanks.

The mallards escape the punishing surf and waddle inland (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

They turn, their flight feathers tucked around their shoulders, and trudge inland.


CURWOOD: Mark recorded the waves and these hardy mallards. You’ll find some photos at our website, LOE.org.

[MUSIC: Paul Winter Consort, “Icarus” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbGGIBTnCXA]

CURWOOD: Next time on Living on Earth, the president promises the Keystone pipeline will guarantee American energy security. But opponents say that’s not true.

KLEEB: This pipeline would open up a huge superhighway to export tar sands to the export market. This is not about, you know, providing tar sands to America.

CURWOOD: The hurdles still facing Keystone XL. And that’s next time, on Living on Earth.



Stewart McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Mark Seth Lender's website


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