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Word of the Week: Precocial
June 19, 2020 by Matthew Kinasz

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Photo by Richard Bod

Precocial [pri-KOH-shuh l] (adjective): Describing a young bird or animal that is hatched or born in a developed state, able to feed itself almost immediately.

It's that time of year again. The time where warmer days make the resident wildlife become extra active in High Park. And they are not alone! Many animals are now being accompanied by their newly born babies.

Maybe you’ve noticed that some of these young animals are moving on their own and are demonstrating their independence by taking care of themselves. It's not because they are social distancing, it's because they are precocial.

Unlike the altricial animals, precocial animals are born with a more advanced state of biological development, making them better well equipped to fend for themselves shortly after they are born. Some of the advantages that precocial animals are born with are the ability to see immediately, feed themselves, as well as run or swim with little to no direction from their parents.

Precocial animals are quite common in High Park, in fact, if you walk by the water, you are very likely to see some.

Wood ducks are a great High Park example of an animal with precocial young! These ducks are distinguishable by the white rings around the eyes of the females and the elaborate green crests and red eyes of the males. When they are born, wood ducks stay in their nest for about 24 hours and before they go off on their own in search of food, their mother will often go out and make sure there are no predators in the area and will signal the ducklings when it is safe. Once they are out of the nest, the ducklings scatter in search of food and in approximately 50 to 70 days will become completely independent.

Wood ducks are most certainly not the only ones in High Park with precocial young. Their close relative, the Mallard Duck, will also have precocial young. You may have seen these ducks both inside the park and around your neighbourhood because, compared to wood ducks, these ducks are better adapted to urban areas. Maybe you’ve noticed their green heads and brown and blue plumage in your own backyard! These ducks are born with the ability to run and swim and learn to fly in ~50 days at which point they take off on their own.

Next time you are near the water in High Park keep an eye out for some ducklings taking care of themselves.

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