Monday, February 21, 2011

Ducks, Ducks and More Ducks

Ducks. That’s what we’ve got: way, way too many ducks. And catfish. Big, big catfish. In spring, we had just five Muscovy ducks; they are white with hairless, red, fleshy clumps around their necks and faces. They have been called ugly but familiarity breeds fondness. The males have wonderful bouffant hairdos piled on top like whipped cream or an aging Las Vegas entertainer.
We’ve had them for at least five years and they have never had any babies that survived being eaten by the foxes that periodically check out the farm for munchable tidbits like baby ducks. We have tried to save them, even to bringing indoors entire nests complete with eggs so the mothers could sit on their eggs in complete safety. Unfortunately we also learned that once a nest is disturbed, the mothers have nothing more to do with it so the eggs never hatched.
This year we decided to watch the nests and capture the ducklings the day they hatched. However the first batch was kept so secret by their mother that we didn’t even see them for several days, by which time they were so fast we couldn’t catch them and, sure enough, the same old routine repeated itself, within days eleven of the twelve ducks were gone but we were able to corral the last duckling and put it in one of the bird houses for safe keeping. The poor baby was all alone and looked wistfully out through the wire screening to freedom just beyond. It was lonely but safe.
We had more success with the second batch of ducklings. Seven were left by the time we found them, all of which we caught plus the mother, who stayed right with her children despite the fear she must have felt at us coming at her to capture her family. So they, too, went inside the bird house. By now the first duckling already had his feathers and was quite large. Still, he took to the new mother and adopted her as his own, staying by her side all day and trying to nestle under her at night with her real babies. Of course he was so big that he actually lifted her up as he tried to get underneath her, which caused issues for her and her babies. Still, everyone adjusted and there was harmony in the coop.
We found the third mother had a nest of eggs in the tractor shed and we watched her for days. Ducks take about 35 days to hatch and we weren’t sure when she started brooding. She, too, stayed right on the nest as we cautiously approached to check on her. Again, her fear was overcome by her genetic drive to protect her babies.
` Finally, patience was rewarded when I saw her proudly leading her newly-hatched family outside the wagon shed. It may have been their very first walk as they were still unsteady so I was easily able to grab all of them, putting them into a bucket and taking them over to the bird house. However, I couldn’t catch mom and she went squawking down to the pond.
We assumed everyone would get along but no, there was jealousy and two of the babies were pecked to death before we realized the problem then we kicked the first batch out. By now they had their feathers and followed mom, along with the adopted child, down to the pond.
Each of our female ducks had hatched a brood but unbeknownst to us, the first mother, who only had one child survive, was determined to try again. One day I saw sixteen little fluffy yellow peeps swimming in the pond with mom. This is where the catfish come in because I knew that between the muskrats and the catfish, these little guys didn’t stand a chance. So I dove into the pond and swam around catching them one by one.
By now Christian had arrived on the scene with a bucket on the dock and as I caught the babies, I handed them to him. The ducklings and I went round and round the pond, one even learned how to dive under the water and swim to another part of the pond, which made things quite frustrating because I’d chase him to one area just to have him dive and pop up someplace else. Finally he wore out and went on shore where I was able to catch him as well.
Unfortunately the mother didn’t want to be caught so we took the 16 babies up to the bird house where they fortunately fit in with the ones already there. So now we had nearly 30 babies together and they were soon found by their respective mothers who stood guard outside. They were joined by a mother goose, unsuccessful at hatching her own, who decided to adopt the ducks as well so all three maintain vigil at the bird house.
Once the ducklings are larger and have their feathers, we’ll set them out for a grand reunion with their mothers (natural and adoptive) who will take them down to the pond where they will finally have a good chance of surviving. I don’t want to deal with the issue of what happens next summer when all of these ducks are ready to mate. I just hope the females will use the morning-after pill and the males are gay.