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 our 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.
We seem to average 2 to 3 females per males, but it has truly fluctuated over the years. 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.)
So duly grouped, we now approach brooding season. Each year is different, so although we have some knowledge of what to expect, you can never predict. The only thing we 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.
The girls begin looking around for nesting spots at the first signs of spring. February for us. They actually prefer to return to previous spots, 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.
One year our Maggie had her nest in our 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, we 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.
One thing we are enamoured of when it comes to brooding ducks is cat carriers. Maggie, as well as our BeepBeep, often nested in them. We encouraged it. And Maggie, at least, recognised her particular carrier. (It was the largest one, of course.) So, come brooding time, we simply had to move her cat carrier to where we 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 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. Our 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
Our 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 we still contend with one entranceway. Of note, fire guards work a treat. Moveable, and easily placed where you need them. We have three of them that can do due diligence at 3 entrance ways. And occasionally we 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 our next door neighbours adjoining, though blocked off, garden courtyard. (Obviously much better foraging there than in ours.) Did I tell you ducks are very curious creatures? And devious.
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.
Once comfortably situated we have a quite gardening moment whilst all enjoy their new areas. Until the next time…
PS: Love Ducks?
We have a selection of duck gifts available for you, or those you know, who love ducks. Some vintage, some our own designs, all unique.
(Simply click on the photo to see more or purchase.)