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Notes on the Behavior of Pintall Ducks in a Hailstorm

Aldo Leopold
2 (March-April)
From Field and Study
Online Text

Notes on the Behavior of Pintail Ducks in a Hailstorm

On October 20, 1918, I was hunting ducks on the Rio Grande south of Las Lunas, New Mexico. I was sitting in my blind on a sandbar, with some dead ducks set out as decoys, when a very severe hailstorm set in. During the thick of the storm I discovered that a flock of about forty Pintail Ducks (Dafila acuta) had settled among my decoys not twenty yards distant. Each bird was facing toward the storm, and each had his head and bill pointed almost vertically into the air. The flock presented a very strange appearance, and I was puzzled for a moment as to the meaning of the unusual posture. Then it dawned on me what they were doing. In a normal position the hailstones would have hurt their sensitive bills, but pointed up vertically the bill presented a negligible surface from which hailstones would naturally be deflected. The correctness of this explanation was later proven by the fact that a normal position was iesumed as soon as the hail changed into a slow rain.

Has any other observer ever noted a similar performance in this or other species of ducks, or in any other birds?

Aldo Leopold

Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 22, 1918

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