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 try to 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.

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

Over the Wall

The first time, I 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 me to come and collect her. Another time a neighbour brought her back and I found her on top of the wall, telling me 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 truly flexed her wings and had many youthful adventures. And I, never having had pet ducks before, just kept hoping for the best.

Do Ducks Recognise Boundaries?

Since then I’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.

I 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.)

A Story to Tell

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, telling me something bad was happening in the garden (there is a certain ‘alarm’ quack). I went rushing down to discover chaos. Louis, my 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.

I called their names and heard an answering quack from the neighbours garden. Running around, I 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 continued the search.

Collecting up Maggie we both went calling for George. We searched all along the lower garden, river and then the upper garden. And it was there I saw a low flying bird come from across the river. He flew up and into the upper garden.

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.

Learning New Boundaries

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

For the first time I clipped my ducks’ wings. Even though it would not be permanent, and they would be able to fly again when they moulted, I cried whilst cutting their flight feathers*. It really felt like I was curtailing their liberty, and also possibly making them more vulnerable to predators. But since I 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 I had to keep even more of a watchful eye on them than ever.

Particularly, of course, with Maggie.

Testing the Boundaries

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 the new home.

Duly brought back, she did it again. I 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 their garden. And interestingly have passed on the information to the next generation.

Ducks are very Curious

It was fascinating to watch them hone their flight skills (not something ducks are truly known for) within the boundaries of the garden. George was definitely the best, with the ability to fly from courtyard, through the barn door, and to the duck enclosure. He could even hover (sort of) like a helicopter before landing. The others, well let’s say they were 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. I went through building various fence or barriers, depending on where they explored next.

First it was flying over the divider I put up in the 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.

Safety within Boundaries

And so they switched their attention to the hedge in the garden behind the barn. Hedges are the perfect place for nests, so hence the temptation. I 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 I can breathe a sigh of relief for a moment. By appropriate I mean they are within either the safety of the duck enclosure or the stable off the courtyard. Both had doors, so they can be closed in at night, away from stalking predators.

Best Laid Plans

As nesting season moved into summer and the advent of ducklings, the mama ducks would show the wee ones where the duck boundaries of the garden were. Well, their idea of where they were. Which did not always match my idea of them. But it was usually pretty close.

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

If you would like to see my Ducks hard at work in the garden, check out my videos and shorts on my YouTube channel.

PS: Love Ducks?

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Simply click on the photo to see more.

If you find my Duck 101 insights useful, or simply enjoy their stories, please consider nourishing my writings by joining me on Patreon.

2022-08-12

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