We had a young teenage-type mother duck hatch out ducklings. All my temporary pens that I use for housing chicks and ducklings were unfortunately full, so I didn’t have anyplace to keep them. She seemed to be a conscientious, caring duck mother who was always hovering over her little ones protecting them.
I did not know at the time that she was missing an eye. She always kept the side of her head with the eye in it turned to keep me under observation. Had I known, I would have turned out a family with slightly older babies in order to give her ducklings a chance at life.
Muscovy ducklings have a hard time of it here. There are hawks in the day flying overhead looking for unaccompanied ducklings and chicks. There are owls and foxes and raccoons and possums at night. Even the very best of duck mothers commonly lose half to two thirds of their brood to predators.
Predators aren’t the only danger the ducklings face. The male ducks will crush their skulls and carry them around, trying to lure the mother ducks into range for breeding purposes. Then they’ll eat the dead ducklings. Some seem to acquire quite a taste for them.
When the ducklings were still less than a week old, I found the young mother duck calling and calling her ducklings that we never found. She looked behind bushes and plants. She ran and ran, calling. All night, she quietly called to her ducklings, but in a quiet, mournful tone as though she knew they were gone for good.
This morning, I heard the piping of newly-hatched ducklings calling frantically for their mother. I ran outside. There were three black and yellow balls of fluff running for their lives and calling mommy. A big male had a dead duckling dangling from his bill. *sigh* I quickly caught the three loose ducklings and put them in the back of my truck. I chased down the rogue male and put him in a pen so he could be butchered later. Then I gathered up the ducklings and walked around with them peeping loudly for TWO HOURS trying to find their mommy duck. No response from the females. A bad mother duck would leave her newly hatched ducklings to the mercies of predators for a short time to bathe and feed, but not for two hours. Mother duck was either on a nest somewhere far enough away that she could not hear the frantic cries of her ducklings (and the first-hatched ducklings may well have followed a non-parental duck away from the nest), or momma duck was a casualty in the night along with the rest of their siblings.
I caught the ducklings and put them in a small movable 4 x 4 pen recently vacated by a mother duck and her five half-grown ducklings. They squeezed out through the 1″ chicken wire. Drat. Back into the back of the truck with them while I think about this. I grabbed my net and went looking for the one-eyed duck. She was in the company of the two huge males that had probably eaten her ducklings. I chased her around the house and eventually netted her, and then put her in the pen. She was not very happy, so I waited until the duck profanities had ceased, and put the ducklings in. They immediately ran to the protection of the “mother” and huddled underneath her. She bent her head around so she could look at them with her one eye. She looked up at me with a “WTF?” expression.
She didn’t try to immediately bite them or drive them away which I took as a good sign. I put food in the pen, and she showed them where to eat. I put water in, and she showed them where to drink. Again, she didn’t try to drive them away. Occasionally, one would lift its voice in a call to its real mother, but a quiet cry now as though it knew it would never again be answered.
Will she accept them? I don’t yet know. Her ducklings have been dead for two weeks, and those momma hormones may be gone. She may yet suddenly decide to kill these interlopers masquerading as her own dearly departed ducklings. I hope that she will take them, though. They’ve been together for almost five hours, and she hasn’t killed them yet, which I’m taking as a good sign. She did bite one, though. Maybe he deserved it.