Archive for March 21, 2013

And Then There Were Ten

A duck built a nest on top of the aluminum cover that extends over one of the porches. (So, you might ask, how many porches do you have? Several. This is Florida.) This particular aluminum cover, which SwampMan has been grousing about tearing out since we’ve lived here, is flat. Yep, it is adjacent to the flat roof room addition whose roof my brother and I have attempted to repair with some degree of success. Several generations of ducks and one chicken have decided, for various reasons, that hatching their brood out on a roof was a very nice idea. I think it’s a gawddamn poor idea, but you know who listens to me! Yeah, nobody.

When my brother and I were up on the roof, we often startled the poor mother duck as we walked past. We couldn’t see her nestled beneath the roof overhang on the patio cover but she could hear us, and we must have sounded awfully menacing. We’d be walking to fetch tools, plywood, nails, beer for my brother, sweet tea for me, unplug the saw, plug in the blower, unplug the blower, plug in the radio for heavy metal music to hammer by, etc. and she would explode off the nest in a sudden startling “WHOOSH!” leaving little downy feather bits drifting down on us. It happened several times per hour. I did not think that any of those eggs had the slightest chance of hatching, but I was wrong.

About two weeks ago, I could hear frantic peeping coming from somewhere outside. I went out to locate the disturbance and found the momma duck on the ground with two ducklings sheltered underneath her, and a nearby duckling whose head had been bitten off and presumably eaten for it (the head) was nowhere near the scene. I do not believe it would have wandered away on its own. Ewwwww. What a horrifying sight for the new hatchlings! Puppy, who patrols all night and sleeps all day, heard me on the porch and came ambling from his bed amongst the hay bales. He sniffed curiously at the dead duckling, gave me a reproachful look as though I were the duckling killer, turned his back on me, then went back to bed.

The poor mother duck didn’t know what to do. She was a young duck, and this was probably her first clutch of eggs. She wanted to attack me and drive me from her ducklings, but she was too fearful. She settled for hissing at me furiously from behind the ducklings. I backed away from the two remaining ducklings so that she would shelter them and went to the porch and got the long-handled heavy-duty fish net. I netted her and the ducklings without much difficulty or any injuries (to them).

Now, where to put them where she and the ducklings would be safe? This is a question most people would have asked themselves BEFORE they were standing holding a furiously flapping and hissing duck by her legs in one hand and two little peeping fluff balls in the other hand that were furiously struggling to escape to Mommy. Most people are smarter than I am. I put her in a small pen with a recuperating injured rooster. He might even be happy for the company, right? So into the pen she went along with her two ducklings. I kept a close eye on them and the rooster for awhile until he started calling the ducklings to the food, then went away.

A couple of days later, two more ducks in the sheep barn hatched out ducklings. They took them out to the little pond/low spot in the former horse pasture that is under the tree where the red-shouldered hawks nest. Not a good move on their part. There were two little laggards peeping frantically about being left behind so I scooped them up and brought them to the penned mother’s nest. Her ducklings were the same size, so I thought she would take them. She hissed at me and bit my fingers as I put the peeping ducklings in the pen, then gently called them to her. How dare I be walking around with her ducklings? I’m sorry to say that I never saw the other 12 ducklings again, so I’m glad that a couple representatives of that generation are still alive. Or maybe I shouldn’t be. Stupid is generally ruthlessly stamped out in the wild, and I’ve allowed those genes to have a chance to perpetuate.

Two weeks later, I was doing my morning feeding and heard frantic peeping again. There was a tiny little newly hatched duckling all by itself being ignored by the rest of the fowl. I picked it up. No indignant duck (or hen) attacked me. Well, this wouldn’t do at all. It wouldn’t survive much longer on its own for it was shivering furiously now. Where could it have come from? It could be the lone survivor of an attack on a nesting duck in the night. It could have hatched out first from a nest and gone off looking for food while Mom stayed with the eggs. I took it to the duck with the two-week-old ducklings to see if she would take it, even though her ducklings were twice the size.

It wasn’t the mother duck accepting it that I needed to worry about! The rooster in the pen decided that this wasn’t ‘his’ baby, so he started picking it to drive it away from the others which were ‘his’. Hmmmm. I opened the pen, removed him, and put him in a pen with a lil’ banty hen and her three half-grown daughters. She accepted him into the family immediately for they’d been neighbors for some time, and she was tired of the single mother life. (She’s started laying eggs again since his introduction to raise another family. Bantams are prolific.) She is the hen half of the duck/hen nest duo, and I haven’t released either her or the duck (and her 11 half-grown ducklings) yet for spring is a perilous time for the young.

The new duckling got on well with its new siblings and mother, who seemed to enjoy having five ducklings. That was the end of that, or so I thought. Two days later, I go outside and there’s a mother duck with 12 little ones running about in the front yard. She gathers them up and heads to water, leaving one behind, who frantically follows hens, roosters, and drakes. Ducks can’t count. Ducklings follow anything with feathers. I pick it up and put it in with the caged momma, who takes it immediately. Now she has a family of six.

I go outside again, and front yard momma duck now has 18 ducklings. Say WHAT? It is supposed get cold again and NO WAY can she keep 18 warm. She wanders away and leaves two more behind. Mother duck in the pen now has a family of eight.

By evening, I’ve picked up two more stray ducklings and mother in cage is now a mother of ten. The ducklings in the front yard have self-sorted into ducklings with the tri-color muscovy mother (11) and a black and white mother (4) that kept getting driven away and having her ducklings stolen by the tri-color mother. I imagine the five ducklings gathered from the previous day probably belong to her but if she manages to raise the four, she’ll be doing well. The front yard is prime hunting ground for the barred owls, you see, and soon the ducklings will be too big to huddle under the mommy duck for protection and warmth at night.

I checked (and fed) all the duck families this morning. The newly hatched ducklings in the front yard made it through the night. I dropped food at the feet of the mother ducks so the ducklings could venture out and feed when I left.

I was a bit concerned about the mother duck’s family in the cage. The temperature dropped into the 30s last night, and “her” four ducklings were older and didn’t need brooding. The six latest adoptees, though, would require the mother duck to stand over them all night, her wings dropped around her to keep body warmth over the ducklings. I needn’t have been concerned. She was protectively brooding the newly-hatched ducklings, but giving me a look that said “What are you, the freakin’ STORK? GO AWAY!”

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