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 about 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.
Maggie is 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 for us quietly 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 had rounded up the females and they were huddled by the cockerel, along with the chickens. George and Sir Studly were missing.
We called 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 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.
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 in a few months, 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 has the most curious soul, and simply knows no fear. And she is sneaky. A real Houdini. She even managed to find the stream beyond our garden wall.
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 is like a child in that she does 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 boundaries are of our and their garden. It has been fascinating in fact to watch them hone their flight skills (not something ducks are truly known for).
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. And always it is Maggie that leads the way.
First it was flying over the divider we put up in our courtyard, to keep her out of our neighbours garden. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side, though in this case, it was better foraging area with more leaves, and a hedge to explore. Higher fencing had to go up to stop her.
And so she switched her attention to the hedge in our garden. 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 Maggie. Our little Houdini would pop up on the other side, leaving George and Louis distressed (and letting me know she had managed to escape yet again).
But luckily ducks are creatures of habit and Maggie settled to having her eggs in her cat carrier and eventually to nesting fully there. We can breathe a sigh of relief for a moment.
Except, now we have Beepbeep nesting fully and she has joined Maggie in the (divided) stable, each with their own cat carrier nest and area. The boys have been sectioned off as of today and are being kept separate. Something they are really not happy about.
Nesting season is so very much about revolving doors, or moveable boundaries. The idea is the stable is a tranquil place for the girls, and the duck enclosure (during the day) is for the boys to hang out in, and be, well, let’s say less bothersome to the girls. Except…
George. When I went to work in the garden, and let the boys out to work alongside me, George took the opportunity to fly up and through the barn window (as the door was closed) and make his way to Maggie. I found him snuggled with her in her nest. Some boundaries are not meant to be.
*(Should you wish or need to cut the flight feathers of your duck, peferably in a non-permanent way, we can recommend this YouTube video for its clarity of ‘how to’.)