Eight Little Ducklings
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
The Tale of Two Stuck Ducks
I was walking by the enclosure where Meenie and her duck family live, when an unusual movement caught my eye. There was something stuck in the fence. That was odd. There shouldn’t be anything there. I walked closer. There were two somethings, actually. Two plump little duck bottoms stuck in the fence, wiggling furiously as they tried to get through an opening much too small for them, back into safety and Momma. They must have squeezed their way through the opening between the fence posts and couldn’t find their way back in.
I took one soft brown bottom in each hand and pulled, to the accompaniment of extensive quacking by two panicked babies, a distraught momma, and upset eight siblings. It was a very chaotic scene. From their point of view, it could have been a life or death situation where I, as a predator, snatched them from the fence.
I opened the gate and released them back into safety, and they ran and flapped as fast as they could to Meenie, who herded them under the safety of a willow bush. Poor Meenie – having to keep track of ten of a lively unruly brood. But all ten have survived.
We don’t have a pond for them, just a stock tank. If we had a pond or lake they would be safely behind her, ten in a row in the water. We are looking for good watery homes for them.
Sally and the Tacos
Sally is quite full of herself (Sally the Hen, not Sally our Office Manager). She stole a luscious piece of bread through the fencing of the chicken infirmary, directly from the beak of one of the startled hens.
Sally (the Hen) is named after Sally our Office Manager. They have much in common, both being lawless, feisty, fearless and general rabble-rousers. Sally the Office Manger is quite proud that Sally the Hen bears her name. I was on a phone call describing Sally (the Hen’s) misdeeds, and made it clear it was the hen, because I said Sally the Office Manager wouldn’t do such a thing (steal from an infirm chicken). Sally (the Office Manager) overheard me and said very clearly and loudly, “I would if it were a taco!” (She is from Texas, which she believes is self-explanatory.)
So much for any pretense of morality. Anyway it gives you a sense of what we have to deal with in the office.
Our Bears Have A Delicate Sensibility
Our bears don’t like red delicious apples, especially later in the season when they get mealy, though some are fussier than others. Their eating habits vary widely, but none of our five bears will touch them. They prefer honeycrisp apples.
Bears are not pigs. (I am using that in the general sense of how we use the word; not about the actual animal. Pigs are most excellent animals, though their eating habits are in fact not those of bears.) Our bears, at least, are very fussy eaters. Gourmets, perhaps. If the peaches aren’t just at the peak of ripeness they don’t want them. One of the few things they all agree on are watermelon, grapes, blueberries and pie.
Fruit pie of course. Preferably cherry.
The Old Rooster Rises Like a Phoenix from the Ashes
Well – about letting the old rooster lie in the sun until he gently passes away, maybe not so soon. Previously unable to walk, he has apparently decided on a life extension. No more picking him up to move him out of the sun; into the sun, into the safety of the coop. No moving him from blocking the preferred entrance in and out of the coop to the annoyance of his hens. He is mobile! It was gradual. We noticed he was in a different place from where we had left him. Then we noticed he was walking a bit. Then standing instead of lying down to eat and drink. We saw him jumping a bit and flapping his wings, almost as if to resume his roosterly duties. And best of all, he was crowing again!
Some would say, why bother? Why take a chicken to a vet? Nurse him tenderly? Because life is life and we all want to live as long as possible. To breath deeply; smell the scents in the air; feel the breezes, the sun; lie in the sweet green grass. Because perhaps we shouldn’t give up easily on an animal until we are sure they don’t want to live. Because once we have a relationship, we have a connection, and we ignore that at our soul’s peril.
He was eating and drinking and stretching his wings to the sun. That was enough for us to make us want to help him. He was no longer able to move and had to depend on us, and he softened. Once feisty and skittish, he now allowed us to pick him up and move him without any protest or show of fear. Once you pick up an animal and make physical contact, the connection deepens as the nervous systems respond to and feel one another. It was a very sweet experience we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
When we took him to the vet, the answer was that his reason for not moving wasn’t because of old age, but because of pain. The diagnosis was severe arthritis in his feet. The medication eased the pain and the swelling and he was (almost ) young again.
However, the hens needed a new young rooster. But not at his expense! We all know the pain of displacement (we thought we were loved for ourselves, and then another with better attributes came along….. particularly someone younger). But the hens were sitting patiently, endlessly, faithfully, yet hopelessly on infertile eggs. Motherhood is such a big thing to hens and they were trying so hard, we wanted to let them each have at least one chick (we seriously miscalculated with the ducks).
We heard of a five month old rooster who was supposed to be a hen but wasn’t–and city ordinances forbade crowing. If we didn’t take him, his future was not bright. We will see. If we take him,he will go in with our infirmary chickens – Twisty, who cannot eat normally because of a deformed beak but manages very nicely under protection, thank you; Orange, who was unaccountably ganged up on by the rest of the flock; and several others with special needs. Blocked off from the free-ranging flock for their safety, it will be a place we can put the new rooster while The Old Rooster still maintains his sovereignty. Though we expect there will be a crowing contest. Perhaps the competition will enliven him even more, making the blood course fiercely through his veins. Hopefully the hens will remain faithful at least in spirit. They will have no access to the new young blood until the old rooster passes away, but one can show preferences, which can hurt.
Still, I remember a story about Joseph, the MGM lion, as he grew old and toothless. Apparently, he had that special something, and lionesses would pre-chew meat for him and adoringly drop it in front of him. There is loyalty in life.
We have a concrete-lined pool in our Wildlife Garden. It was accumulating debris, which blocked our waterfall pump. We began to drain it from the bit of rainwater that filled the bottom. But wait! There was movement! Life! Closer inspection revealed salamanders–several of them. How on earth did they get there across acres of high, dry desert populated with sagebrush and rough, dry ground? Really. How did they do it? It made me think of the discredited theory of the spontaneous generation of life (which I begin to believe every fall as hundreds of flies filled our small log cabin despite screens and closed doors).
In any case, we obviously couldn’t drain the pool until all the salamanders were caught and relocated. So we were delayed a day and visitors didn’t get to see the waterfall. It was a small price to pay.
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.