One of my favourite and the most amazingly helpful websites is Backyard Chickens. This has been my go to site for any questions about our chickens or ducks. And on the flip side, I try to help those who have, or more importantly are thinking of having, a Pet Duck. Recently I was asked how much time I spend with Maggie, as well as whether I diaper her (yes there are such a thing as Duck Diapers*). My short answer turned long, as it varies greatly, and so I thought it worth adding as a post here.
Maggie grew up in our cottage, so is quite at home there, and it is where she sleeps at night. (Yes, in the house with us.) She wanders at will, even flying up on to the sofa. Now, ducks are messy creatures. They are like dogs when it comes to eating their food, that is with great gusto, and slurping up their water, let alone bathing in it. There’s lots of wing flapping, feather fluffing and the odd moult. (Something we are going trough right now and I am finding feathers everywhere!) They also can’t control their bowels. They have no sphincter, so when they have to go, they have to go. This is what puts most people off having a duck, or chicken, as a pet.
Enter the Duck Diaper. Some lovely soul came up with a harness system for poultry that can hold a piece of diaper, thus saving the furniture and lots of washing up. We have a diaper for our Maggie. However, she HATES to wear it. She spends the whole time it’s on trying to get it off. She is normally such a vivacious character but having the diaper harness on changes her character completely, and we find this difficult to bear.
We generally only put it on her when she is inside and we have company. That is, when we feel there is a real need. Because it does quiet her (as she is too focused on trying to get it off), it is useful when we have visitors as otherwise she does enjoy being the centre of attention. Otherwise, when it is just us in the house, she goes ‘naked’. It’s our preference, so Maggie stays as, well, Maggie. Luckily, she is quite routine orientated so I know where she likes to hang out when she is inside. I put down towels where she normally goes, eg on the sofa, as these are easily washed.
She very obviously prefers softness underfoot, rather than our stone floor, to hang out on. From early on, as soon as she could, she’s been hopping up on the sofa to sit. She loves the arm of the sofa as she can survey her ‘Queendom’ and keep an eye on where I am. Also she has a cushion that she has claimed as her own. In fact two, one in our living room, and one upstairs which she sleeps on. Funny enough both are red, so she must obviously prefer this colour.
We have learned to feed her only outside, and not to let her in the house after she has eaten lettuce – that is an ewwwww in the making. She doesn’t eat once she comes in at night, just water bowls dotted about, which makes night time messes easy to manage (most of which ends up on a (red) cloth on her bed that gets washed daily). And stone floors are a God send, along with wet wipes. Easy.
The time she spends with me varies. If you are thinking of having a pet duck, particularly one that imprints on you, the one thing everyone will tell you is they need a lot of your time. Think of it as having a baby. You would give all your time, 24/7, to your newborn. The same holds true for an imprinted duck. I, or she, was never alone for her first 8 weeks. She followed me everywhere. Or if I wanted to move faster than her little legs could take her, she rode on my shoulder, tucked in my scarf.
She became far more independent after 2 months, after her down had turned to feathers and she was able to fly. Our biggest worry then became that she had no fear of being on her own, including out in the open. We do have predators and have lost 2 ducks to them in the past. It was a slow process of getting her to hang out with the other ducks, as she did not realise she was one. An interesting study and learning curve for us of nature vs nurture. She knew there was something familiar about them, but she was definitely more comfortable with humans. It wasn’t until we got a male duck that she started hanging out with the other ducks more.
Our routine these days, though it varies each day somewhat, is that she goes with me early each morning to let the other animals (chickens, ducks and rabbits) out. She generally then hangs out, wandering the garden, with the other ducks most of the day. At various times they, or just herself, will come to the cottage to visit. She always calls out on arrival and if they are a flock I simply visit with them and give them lettuce. If she comes on her own I let her in and she generally has a snooze on the sofa for an hour before joining the other ducks again. At the end of the day she goes around with me as I put the other animals back in their houses for the night. We always give her the choice to stay with the other ducks in the evening, and so far she has always chosen to come back with us to the house.
We are lucky in that we work from home, so are home more or less all day. Ducks are definitely a flock animal, needing to be with others, whether human, cat or other ducks. They make a lot of noise if they are left alone, calling out for others. It is very rare Maggie is ever completely on her own. Occasionally I have had to leave her in the cottage, but always for as short a time as possible, and she just hunkers down awaiting my return.
We have learned her routines more or less now and life is much simpler because of this. Like most animals, she eats, washes, sleeps and plays. When dusk settles she comes in the house, washes up, fluffs her feathers and settles in for a nap on the sofa, recovering, thank you very much, from her exhaustive forays of the day. Come later in the evening it is play time. Ideally she enjoys when Gigi, our cat, is about as they can play tug and pounce or they can roll balls to each other.
When we are ready to go to bed, Maggie is taken upstairs, has a wash and settles herself on her bed. She sleeps through the night (more or less) if she has been running about all day. If she has been inside napping during the day, she sleeps less in the nights. Then, come dawn, Gigi comes up to play with her sibling and the two run around trying to make as much noise as possible and the day begins anew. Who needs an alarm clock when you have a duck and cat as pets.
* If you would like to see a Duck (or chicken) Diaper, or if you are in need of one, or instructions to make one or other items for a Duck there are a few places to check out. Partyfowl and SewSammi on Etsy.