Nine Little Ducklings with Their Mother
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
The Experimental Duckling: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too exploratory (too soon). I will explain…….
We had a first here – after years of laying eggs and sitting on them, this July we had an Event. Our lovely brown female duck, Meenie, was finally rewarded for her patience. This was the second sitting of the year. The first one ended in the eggs disappearing one by one until she was sitting on one – and then none. It was hard to watch. Her patient hope and work ended in nothing, the shells of stolen eggs the only testament to what had happened or to the fact that hope had ever existed.
If you ever watched the laying of eggs, that alone is hard work, not to mention all that goes afterwards. Just look at the size of egg compared to duck and relate that to the equivalent size a human baby would be – and then multiply it by several times for the number of eggs produced. It might be a common occurrence, but that doesn’t change the fact of it. Or the miracle of it, for that matter.
She tried again. This time she chose a nest in a different location. A few days ago, we heard peeps. Not one, not two, not three, not five, not seven – ten little dusty-brown ducklings. I guess it’s the reward of motherhood after all that effort, but now she is a frazzled wreck trying to keep her brood together and safe. They have not been obedient. They wander through fences through which she can’t fit, driving her crazy trying to call them back. But the green grass beckoned and far horizons called, even when they were only a few days old. Exploration and curiosity is the nature of Life.
So back to being too exploratory too soon. We put out a shallow pan of water for the ducklings to experience water but still be safe. We also have a large, deep stock tank in which the adult ducks swim, with a ramp and stone steps so they can access it. Walking by, an unusual movement caught the corner of my eye. There was a lone duckling swimming in the large tank. I have no idea how he could have gotten up the stone steps which were several inches high, or what possessed him to leave the flock and go up the ramp and the steps – and then into the water. But there he was, being a duck in water, paddling away. He was only a few days old.
Then he decided to try to get out. Though the water was only a couple of inches from the top, he couldn’t get traction. He tried and tried and tried with all his might to get out, leaping and flailing his tiny, stubby wings. His momma, noting his distress, came over and called and called, quacking mightily. I gave him a few minutes to make it himself (I am sure it had to be a boy). But I saw him getting tired and frantic as he couldn’t heed his mother’s urgent calls. I intervened and scooped him up and over the edge. He flew to him momma, (not literally – just in speed) who hurried him back under the willows with the rest of the brood. I heard a whole lot of quacking with a very different sound. I wasn’t sure if it was relief or scolding, but it was quite passionate.
The duckling in the stock tank.
The Indignant Raven: It was time. He had been in his rehabilitation cage for the recommended 6 weeks to give him time to heal a broken keel. I fed him twice a day. There was nothing wrong with his appetite.
As he healed, he became wilder and wilder, clearly not wanting anything to do with me even though I entered quietly, brought food and left.
We planned to move him from the cage, where he had deliberately limited space to fly (but a multiplicity of perches to hop among), in to a fenced garden, our “Small-in-Size Only” animal garden, so named by our small animals who refused to be categorized as such- our coyotes, foxes, etc. Sadly, we have not raised enough funds yet to build dedicated rehabilitation facilities since we got our license last year, so the small-in-size-only animals had to sacrifice a few days. Coyotes, foxes, and ravens relearning to fly are not a recommended combination.
When the day came, I woke early in the pre-dawn light to catch him for the transfer. He would be still sleepy, but I could begin to see. I took him out of the net, holding him close to my chest so he wouldn’t flap and injure his wings. One strong black claw grasped a perch and I couldn’t free it. I leaned forward to release his foot, and as I did so, felt a deep pain in my right cheek. He had managed to grab a sizable chunk of my cheek in the side of his beak and squeeze. It hurt. A lot. He kept squeezing with astounding strength, refusing to let go. I couldn’t release it because one hand was holding him and I needed two to pry those powerful jaws open. I swear he was doing it with a mixture of fear, rage and indignation.
My threats to pluck him if he didn’t let go had no effect, but eventually he tired as I walked him to the garden. I put him in the release cage. I would open it as the day dawned and he became used to his new surroundings.
I went to the bathroom mirror to assess the damage. There was a long bloody streak on my cheek the length of a raven’s beak, where the combination of pressure and sharp beak edges had broken the skin. And I suspected a fair amount of bruising would develop from the pressure. I told him again (in my mind) that if he ever tried that again I would personally pluck him naked.
Later that morning, I had to face people asking what happened to me. Everyone I met. I didn’t know I knew so many people. I live with wolves and bears and cougars and bison with claws and teeth and horns. What do I say….That a raven bit me?
The next day, he was hopping around the garden. Three days later we could find no sign of him.
I do wish him well, regardless…
The Ancient Rooster: We have had him for many years, the old rooster. We had his father before him and his father before him. But he is the end of the line. None of his hens have hatched chicks. We watched n sadness as he aged, now to the point that he can barely walk. But he eats and drinks, lies in the sun–first on one side then the other–and his hens still want to be around him. Adrianna the goat steps carefully around him, honoring his existence. He sleeps with her, now that he can’t get up on his perch. Jean tenderly brings him in and out, making sure food and water is within his reach. We took him to the vet to see if there was anything to be done. She suggested Rimadyl for the arthritis pain and it seemed to help. He has been more mobile. He took really good care of his flock. We will let him pass in his own time, lying in the sun.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.