Our ducklings arrived via mail at the end of May. We kept them indoors and under a heat lamp until all of their adult feathers had replaced their duckling fuzz. The adult feathers shed water (like water rolling off a duck's back) allowing them to trap warmth near their body. Luckily by this point in the season, the temperature was sufficiently warm, and Pat had finished the portable duck house. The ducks were ready to venture outside for the first time! We were ready to be rid of their stink! Because ducks are messy and stinky, we move their house and electric fence--about every 7-10 days allowing our feather friends fresh plants and insects to feed on. At night, they waddle inside their house, and Pat locks them in for protection.
At the point at which these photos were taken, the ducks had been fully grown for a few months. After observing them, I realized that everything they say about ducks is true. They are fuzzy when they are ducklings, They shake their tail feathers. They are often silly. Due to weak legs, we've had a couple lame ducks. One of which resulted in death. Because of flock behavior, the ducks won't go anywhere unless all are lined up in a row. They moderate themselves. And finally (and sadly), they are in fact sitting ducks!
One Saturday in September, we were busy preparing to go to a birthday party, when Abraham (9 years old at the time) heard a mad squaking coming from the ducks. Now, the ducks are noisy and will squak at our cats and at me or anyone else pereceived a threat, but something in their tone indicated real distress. So, Abraham ran up to the meadow to check on them. As he approached he saw a massive raptor--probably a red tail hawk feasting on one of the drakes. The fallen drake was likely the guard duck who protects the rest of the flock by staying a bit on the perimeter of the group watching for predators. As Abe came closer to the flock, the hawk flew off leaving the prey-too heavy to take with him. We removed the duck to minimize traumitization, and put him in the woods knowing somebody would find a happy dinner later. If I'd had more courage, I would have cooked him for ourselves, but I'm ashamed that I have not reached that level of comfort with our animals. For a couple of days the ducks would not come out of the house. Pat had to put their food and water inside. For weeks they were nearly silent, but eventually their behavior restored to normal. Our electric fence which keeps the fox, raccoons, coyotes, cats, and dogs away failed in keeping out the raptors. The loss was shocking but not unexpected. We live in the woods afterall. We found some consolation in that it was a drake. It's better to have more egg layers and fewer testosterone fueled males.
We've talked about possible protective measures for the future including training a flock guardian dog or acquiring guard geese who apparently keep raptors at bay. Until then we keep our ears peeled and our eyes focused on those shiver- causing shadows cast by our huge red tail hawk, who also lives in our woods.
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.