Understanding Duck boundaries at PumpjackPiddlewick

If you have ever flown, you may realise that from above all looks different. And this is true for ducks as well. If you have pet ducks, and you don’t clip their wings, they could fly away simply because they don’t recognise the familiar from above. Or… you can teach them duck boundaries.

Ducks start testing their wings at about 3 to 4 months. First it’s a little hop. Then the realisation hits and those hops turn into chaos.

Our pet duck Maggie was a prime example. Normally she stayed within the boundaries of the large enclosed garden of the Chateau (where we were caretakers and she grew up). But every now and then, she overshot.

The first time, we watched her fly over the wall and went racing out and around only to find her landed just on the other side, waiting quietly for us to come and collect her. Another time a neighbour brought her back and we found her on top of the wall, telling us about her adventures. Yet another time she went to check out the petanque players at the nearby town hall, and the gardener spotted her and brought her back.

Maggie was truly flexing her wings and having youthful adventures. And we, never having had pet ducks before, just kept hoping for the best.

Since then we’ve learned, ducks, like many animals, actually recognise boundaries. It’s part territorial thing, but also simply understanding what is ‘home’, e.g. recognised. The trouble with ducks is once they cross the boundary, they don’t know how to get back. It looks very different from above. And even more so if they land on the other side. Nothing is familiar.

We have noticed over the years that the older ducks have figured out to stay put if they get spooked and go over a wall. (Being spooked by something is the most common reason for, often accidentally, crossing their boundaries.)

This happened in the Otter Incident. The river had flooded and a large otter was in search of food. Yes, they will eat ducks.

Maggie came to get me to tell me something bad was happening in the garden (there is a certain ‘alarm’ quack). We went rushing down to discover chaos. Louis, our first white call duck, had rounded up the females and they were huddled by the cockerel, along with the chickens. George and Sir Studly were missing.

We called their names and heard an answering quack from the neighbours garden. We ran around and climbed in to find a scared Studly waiting to be collected. He cuddled against me, tucking his head into my neck as we went back into our own garden. I put him with the others, under the watchful eye of the cockerel and we continued the search.

Collecting up Maggie we both went calling for George. We searched all along the lower garden and river whilst Mr P searched the upper garden. And then I saw a low flying bird come from across the river. He flew up and into the upper garden. Pumpjack called out ‘he’s here!’

You see, ducks recognise their names, and they recognise their boundaries. But to make it back ‘home’ you may need to guide them back by calling them repeatedly.

When we moved to our current home, we decided to be cautious as our garden although enclosed and a very good sized, was certainly not as large as the Chateau’s.

For the first time we clipped our ducks wings. Even though it would not be permanent, and they would be able to fly again when they moulted, we both cried whilst cutting their flight feathers*.

It really felt like we were curtailing their liberty, and also possibly making them more vulnerable to predators. But since we did not yet know what their home life would be like, it was for the best. They were still able to do little hops, rather like when they first learned to fly, but they couldn’t get any loft.

They settled into their new home quite quickly. Like most curious animals, we had some moments, particularly as the girls went searching for best nesting areas. Having clipped their wings proved to be a good thing, though we had to keep even more of a watchful eye on them than ever.

Particularly, of course, with Maggie.

Maggie had the most curious soul, and simply knew no fear. And she was sneaky. A real Houdini. She even managed to find the stream beyond the high garden wall of our new home.

Duly brought back, she did it again. We watched her. She quietly sneaked into the neighbours garden and then sidled down the far side, before hopping up on to the end wall, and then fluttering down to the land and stream beyond. All followed by George and Louis.

This was a daily routine for about a week. She really was like a child in that she did like to test the boundaries. And then luckily she started laying eggs in her cat carrier and gave up on exploring.

And since then, even with flight feathers grown back, they have learned and understand what the duck boundaries are of our and their garden. And interestingly have passed on the information to the next generation.

It has been fascinating in fact to watch them hone their flight skills (not something ducks are truly known for) within the boundaries of our garden. George is definitely the best, with the ability to fly from courtyard, through the barn door, and to the duck enclosure. He can even hover (sort of) like a helicopter before landing. The others, well let’s say they are not so adept.

That is not to say they don’t still have curiosity moments. Which always seem to occur just before nesting period begins. We went through, and still do, building various fence or barriers, depending on where they explored next.

First it was flying over the divider we put up in our courtyard, to keep the ducks out of our neighbours patio and garden area. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side, though in this case, it was a better foraging area with more leaves. Higher fencing had to go up to stop them.

And so they switched their attention to the hedge in our garden behind the barn. Hedges are the perfect place for nests, so hence the temptation. We had taken the prunings from the hedge cutting and wattled them amongst the lower limbs to create a low level ‘duck’ fence. It worked. Except for Macey. This little Houdini would pop up on the other side, leaving a distressed Louis behind (and thus letting me know she had managed to escape yet again).

But luckily ducks are creatures of habit and once appropriately located nests are sorted we can breathe a sigh of relief for a moment. By appropriate we mean they are within either the safety of the duck enclosure or the stable off our courtyard. Both have doors, so they can be closed in at night, away from stalking predators.

As nesting season moves on into summer and the advent of ducklings, the mama ducks show them where the boundaries of the garden are. Well, their idea of where they are. Which does not always match our idea of them. But it’s usually pretty close.

This year we put up a proper fence on the other side of our hedge. The reasoning was two-fold. First, the hedge was a pain in the proverbial in terms of keeping the animals within our garden. Our new dog, Sanka, especially became very very adept at finding a way through, and creating larger and larger holes. The ducks soon learned to follow Sanka.

We have never been enamoured of the hedge, so the eventual plan is to cut it down and replace with some nut trees. We already have a number of hazelnut trees making their way up through the hedge that gave us the idea.

The new fence has hindered Sanka and the ducks getting into our neighbours garden, so now they have switched their attention to our neighbour on the other side. Luckily he does not mind their forays. But even so we are now in the process of rebuilding the stone wall that makes up the boundary on that side.

It’s a very long term project as much of the wall is collapsed in places. Ultimately though it will be all the stronger and better for it. Whether the ducks will be happy about it remains to be seen. But then we are sure they will use any opportunity to test their boundaries.

*(Should you wish or need to cut the flight feathers of your duck, preferably in a non-permanent way, we can recommend this YouTube video for its clarity of ‘how to’.)

PS: Love Ducks?

We have a selection of duck gifts available for you, or for those you know who love ducks. Some vintage, some our own designs, all unique.

(Simply click on the photo to see more.)

2022-08-12

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