Valentine for a Mallard Drake

San Elijo Lagoon, North San Diego County, CA


I didn’t think I’d see you here today,

concealed in this wetland sanctuary

amid stumps and snags and muddy ground,

clumps of bulrush twisted all around

the evergreen arroyo willow trees—


until something betrayed your nesting place:

the sunlight danced on your brilliant pate

and feathers green as emerald startled me,

thrilling as a gift beneath a tree

the plumage that you wear to win your mate.


No bigger than my thumb, that tiny glimpse,

but still I saw you, through the twigs above—

you and your mate, with nest eggs likely near.

I pray your enemies won’t see you here,

such brazen feathers, in the name of love!


In courtship months, you bargain with your life;

how powerful an innate drive is this.

You seem at peace with the choice you’ve made—

the dashing beau, waiting in the shade,

dressed in Sunday clothes to court his miss.


In silence we acknowledge one another,

until you drift away with your lover.




After courtship and nesting are complete in spring, the male (drake) Mallard’s brilliant feathers molt, replaced by indistinct mottled brown camouflage.






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