Living with a Blind duck at PumpjackPiddlewick

Turns out we have a blind duck. We’ve been wondering for a little while now, but thought it was simply poor close up vision. Not unusual in a duck. Then yesterday, she flew into a tree stump.

Luckily, ducks are a bit like nerf footballs. If you don’t remember or have not heard of nerf toys, these were made of foam so they bounced rather than broke. Of course they bounced a bit wonky, never quite going the direction you expected them to. This was my BeepBeep. She was a nerf duck. Luckily.

Beepbeep had always been the odd duck out. She was the runt and was always smaller than the other ducks. That is until she had her own ducklings. Beepbeep’s three teenage daughters (Pecan, Pumpkin and Pi) were all even smaller than their mum. And Pi was definitely taking after my Beeps in the weirdly wonderful department, scooting around the duck enclosure or having full on conversations with herself at top volume. But I digress.

Back to my blind duck. I started to get an inkling on the daily worm hunts. Beeps used to be a master at getting underfoot in the search for worms. (This now falls to her daughter Pecan.) With shovel to hand I would find a new section of the enclosure or garden and dig up piles of dirt. Flipping them over and dumping them down (preferably not on a duck) lead to a mad scramble to pull out a worm. Beepbeep used to be eagle eyed when it came to spotting a wriggler and getting in there fast.

Except at height of winter and summer when the ground was too solid and the worms were hibernating deep, I would go out and turn the earth. Most days we were successful. The ducks learned to recognise the shovel in fact and come running when they see me walk out with it. They knew what was about to go down.

Often there was a rugby-esq scrum to get at the first turned clods. Usually with Pecan reaching in under all to nab the worm. They sort of took it in turn to push to the front as bellies got filled. Except for Beepbeep.

She had taken to hanging back, a few feet away, and not joining in the melee. So, as I turned the earth, I took to grabbing a few worms before other greedy beaks could get to them and taking them over to Beeps. I would hold my hand out with the wriggler on show and … she did not seem to be able to see it.

Now duck eyesight is something truly amazing, and interesting. They can see vast distances. Maggie always had a fear of airplanes. She could spot a plane, way way way up there, well before any of us mere mortals.

Up close varies. As their eyes are on the sides of their head, they can’t see what is actually put in front of them. They have to turn their heads slightly to see. They certainly don’t see as well close up as compared to far away.

A little quirky fact about ducks~ their brains can take in the two different visions, left and right. They process the information separately. They can even shut one eye and let one side of the brain sleep, whilst the other keeps watch. How cool is that?

What I noticed with BeepBeep was that even if I brought a worm in from the side, for her to see, she didn’t seem to be able to see it. I started calling her name in a certain speedy repetition as I held it out. I generally do this with each of the ducks when I have found a worm, call their name . It usually brings them running.

But if Beepbeep was now a blind duck, I realised she wouldn’t couldn’t come running any more. She couldn’t see what to run to. I had to retrain Beeps to understand that calling her name meant I was bringing her a worm. (And consequently I also had to learn to not just say her name randomly in a high tone as the look of expectation was hard to cope with when you haven’t a worm to provide.)

Since then, on our daily foray, when the scrum began, Beep would stay well back from it all but with head alert to what was going on. A smart girl, she was quick to catch on and understand the sounds around her. As I found worms, I would bring them to her, singsonging her name. A hand was held out with worm presented under her beak and she ‘felt’ around for it until success.

With all else, I made sure not to move the ‘furniture’. Food bowls were kept filled, and in their place. Torn up lettuce leaves are always provided in the same locations. Beeps made particularly happy sounds when she’d find a head of lettuce, which was much bigger and easier to grab beak fulls of and pull off. So I made sure to provide the lettuce head as part of their morning routine so she knew when and where to find it.

And hopefully, as each morning we would all head into the garden together, Beepbeep would be less tempted to join the others in stretching their wings. I would rather she didn’t fly into any more tree stumps. It still had to hurt, even for a nerf duck.

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2019-11-15

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