How we deal with brooding ducks at PumpjackPiddlewick

Tis the season, the time for brooding ducks. Now to most, brooding ducks means ducks sitting on nests, all quiet, peaceful and spring tranquil. Well, I am here to tell you… ‘Ha!’

I’ve mentioned before (in duck difficulties), in January here ducks start to pair up. It’s a hit or miss thing until spring approaches, but by February my ducks are set. They’ve chosen their mate. Easy peasy, except…

Let’s talk numbers

Numbers don’t always match up. Sometimes there are more males. Ideally, for a healthier flock, there are more females to male in ratio. Four or even six to one male is the best for your females. Too many males and the female gets overwhelmed with attention, and mounting. This can mean loss of feathers, limping, a dislocated or broken leg and can even result in death.

Over the years, I seem to average 2 to 3 females per male, but it has truly fluctuated. Once the primary couple has mated, the rest of the females form a line in the sense of a pecking order. Rather like an Emperor and his harem. The first is the wife, the rest his concubines.

The male will generally focus solely on the wife in terms of attention and protection. The mistresses will hang about on the periphery, until the wife nests. Once she sits on her nest, the attention may turn to them. But never to the level the wife gets as the Emperor still has to keep an eye on the wife on her nest and protect her. Sort of. (He does get bored often and will wander off to visit elsewhere, particularly with any other males with nesting wives, and swap nesting horror stories.)

Brooding Ducks

So duly grouped, we now approach brooding season. Each year is different, so although I have some knowledge of what to expect, you can never predict. The only thing I can predict is that each day will be different and somewhat chaotic until all the girls are nesting. And depending on the weather, e.g. warmth, will depend on when they actually sit. It could be a couple weeks. But, more likely a couple months of dealing with brooding ducks, particularly if you have a few females.

The girls begin looking around for nesting spots at the first signs of spring. End of January for me. They generally prefer to return to known nesting spots, especially if it proved to be safe the previous year. So that makes things a little easier. Great in theory, unless you have an imprinted duck.

My Maggie

One year my Maggie had her nest in my bathroom. Such is the entertainment of having a duck who knows how to climb stairs. And where Maggie was you always found George. Whilst Maggie nested, he simply sat by her. And as a duck sits on her nest for 23 ½ hours, I generally knew where George was. He stretched his legs now and then and came to say ‘hello’. But that’s about it.

One year Maggie also had Louis as part of her nesting entourage. Sadly for Louis we had to stop him coming in the house to be with her. Why? Because Louis was not one for sitting quietly whilst Maggie nested. For some reason (warning, graphic moment coming), her nesting turned him on. He perpetually tried to turf her off her nest and have rumpy tumpy. Not good.

Cat carriers

One thing I am enamoured of when it comes to brooding ducks is cat carriers. Maggie, as well as BeepBeep, often nested in them. I encouraged it. And Maggie, at least, recognised her particular carrier. (It was the largest one, of course.) So, come brooding time, I simply had to move her cat carrier to where I preferred her to nest.

Having nests in cat carriers allows you to aid in where you would like your females to nest. Stuffed full of straw they are a magnet to a pet duck looking for a cosy hidden place. It also means you can move the nest if you wish. Though this is fraught with ‘danger’ as you have to do it very carefully and not wake a brooding duck out of her stupor or she will give up on the nest and you will have to start all over again.

West Side Story

If you have more than one male duck, you will generally find that groups will have formed during brooding season. With the male ducks becoming protective of their female entourage. This now means that the males in opposing groups like to fight each other and/or rape the other groups females. It’s a duck thing. Particularly a brooding ducks thing. But especially a mallard duck thing. My Louis (white call duck) is a bit more refined.

It’s not that the males ‘want’ to fight, rape and pillage. It’s like a film comes over the eyes, and the next thing you know he is off and running. I was able to say, for example, “George!” and point a finger and it called him up short as it diverted his attention and broke the hormonal moment. But you have to spot the intent. So it is easier to divide than try to conquer.

It’s all in the timing

My ducks shelter through the night together. So timing is about how to scoot them in to the same place in the evening, or out in the morning. This is dealt with by dividing the space into spaces. But I still contend usually with one entranceway. Of note, fire guards work a treat. Moveable, and easily placed where you need them. I have three of them that can do due diligence at 3 entrance ways. (And occasionally I even use them in front of the fire pit.)

So mornings are about letting one group out first. They have some water, a nibble and head right away to the enclosure. Then the next group are let out to gorge themselves before trying to play Houdini and magic themselves into my next door neighbours adjoining, though blocked off, garden courtyard. (Obviously much better foraging there than in mine.) Did I tell you ducks are very curious creatures? And devious.

Laughter ensues

I can close the first group in the enclosure and then close the barn door so the rest are safe in the courtyard. At mid-day a little time in the garden is called for and a change over. I scoot the courtyard group into the enclosure, and let the others out into the garden for some foraging time. Once again those fireguards are a wonderful tool.

This is much easier to write than do, as it involves getting randy males passed cute females of the opposing group. Lots of laughter, scolding and scooping up ducks usually ensues. Getting the picture?

Once comfortably situated we have a quite gardening moment whilst all enjoy their new areas. Until the next time…

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  1. Hilarious! I cannot imagine how much energy you must have to chase those randy males around. Who knew that ducks had such fascinating social lives? 😂

    1. They are true personalities. George especially keeps me in stitches. When I have to point the finger at him to stop, he gives me the eye like ‘who me?’. And Studly is quite the opposite. He is a gentleman, most of the time. When caught in the act, he just stays placidly in my arms looking smug 😀

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