The Ducks That Swim in Circles

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On a recent trip to the wonderful Sedona Wetlands Preserve, described in a previous post on this blog, I shot video footage of a fascinating group behavior by ducks, specifically Northern Shovelers. Shovelers are “dabbling” or surface-feeding ducks. The species has evolved a collaborative feeding strategy. Swimming in what John Andrew Eastman calls a “pinwheel” pattern, each duck does its part by stirring up food for the duck behind it. The terms “rotating” or “swimming in circles” are too simple for the complex patterns shown in the three linked videos. Each video shows the ducks forming, splitting off from, and reforming circles. The rotation in one may be clockwise while in another counterclockwise. The first video clip gives the best close-up view of the individual ducks, while the second and third show variations in the patterns of their swimming-and-feeding together.  (Note: None of these three files contains audio.)

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