A soap opera duck drama at PumpjackPiddlewick

With the advent of spring always comes the inevitable duck drama. Hormones, testosterone, mating, nesting, and various predators coming out of hibernation. All combine to make you feel like you live in an overwrought soap opera at times.

Yesterday dawned, literally, as normal. I got my coffee ready and took Gabby (imprinted duck) down to let the other ducks out from the safety of their respective ‘bedrooms’ in our barn.

In spring, the ducks have to be let out in stages or we have a chaos of rape and pillaging, often with more than one male ganging up on one of our females. It doesn’t help that we have too many males at this time, but sometimes that is just the way mother nature works. Come ducklings and summer, we will keep the females, but not the males this year. But we say that most years, and some years it just doesn’t work out.

Our ducks have not paired up well thus far. Maggie, as always, has George by her side. The original velcro duck. But now she has Louis and the latest recumbent, Little Lad in her entourage as well. Too many males. So to give her a peaceful night, she is isolated with George in our Grooms cottage in the barn.

Why George? Because when Maggie comes to nest, he will be the one to stick by her and protect her. Louis is a bit more fickle and tries to turf her off her nest for some rumpy-pumpy when the mood suits. Not good for the female when she is brooding. And Little Lad, well, he’s new to the entourage, so bottom of the pecking order. Literally.

We have the next door stable divided as well. In one part Beepbeep and Sir Studly bed down. Because of Beep’s blindness, we try to keep her night world as calm as possible. This means no other ducks around her. The other side houses the remainder of the ducks – Louis, Little Lad and our two other teenage girls, Macy and Neige. This is a little purposeful in that we hope that our girls will attract our boys away from Maggie. So far it hasn’t happened.

It’s a rotating situation in the morning. Our foursome are let out first and the boys immediately go looking for Maggie. The girls high tail it for our neighbours attached courtyard. Maggie most often lays her egg first thing in the morning, so if there is no sound from her we leave her where she is and release Beeps and Studly. This is all done whilst holding Gabby so he doesn’t attack, well, whomever his testosterone levels deems he should attack that day.

Beeps, Studs, Gabby and I head into the garden. Gabs gets along with the other two in their little flock, so other than an occasional mounting of Beeps life is fairly calm in that sector. Unless Studs gets an eyeful of Maggie…

The trio have a forage in the garden whilst I top up water bowls and food in the duck enclosure. Eventually they wander in and settle themselves in their side of the enclosure. Yes, the enclosure is divided too. Not always, but in spring, absolutely.

The dividing gate is put in place and it is time to bring the other ducks into our garden. This is easiest if I hoist Maggie on to my shoulder and the males will automatically follow. Flock instinct generally kicks in for our two teenage girls too and we all waddle, or fly, out into the garden.

A quick snack in the enclosure and Maggie and her entourage are off to explore the neighbours garden. We have a hedge that divides the two, and Maggie has created various ways through it. As the neighbour’s garden is enclosed on the other three sides, I let them roam. Time for me to have a sit down in Cafe du Canard to relax a moment, write a bit and enjoy my coffee as the sunrises.

Today’s duck drama came unannounced, as most drama’s do. As Maggie et al were on the other side of the hedge, I opened the gate dividing the enclosure to let Studly, Beepbeep and Gabby have a further forage in our garden. Except Studs could hear duck activity in the neighbouring garden. He often pines for Maggie as he was her original partner, before George showed up on the scene.

He climbed up on our mound of dirt, a favourite hangout for the ducks, for a better look. And then decided to fly over to investigate. He has occasionally done this in the past. And I duly go running over and collect him up before he tries to mount Maggie.

This time he flew up and over only to be met by a patrolling Little Lad (now not so little). He flew up to meet him and they swerved and… flew off. I couldn’t see where, but I could hear their wings, so I knew it wasn’t just a few feet. Merde.

I hastily grabbed up Beeps and Gabby and put them back in the enclosure, especially so Gabby wouldn’t try to follow me and get underfoot. A run around the neighbour’s garden and no sign of the boys. There were some children playing in the next garden over and I knew that if they had flown that way there would have been exclamations.

That left beyond our garden. Our garden is long, linear and enclosed. Barn at the top, hedge to the right, wall to the left. The bottom of the garden is walled, with stairs leading down and out to a very old path beyond. This path continues left and right along the base of all the gardens on our street. Beyond the path a steep downhill into a wooded valley with a stream.

I began calling Studly and Laddie from the bottom of our garden. Leaning over the back wall sing songing their names. I heard an answering quack beyond the stream,amongst the trees on the bank on the other side. Running down the stairs and out on to the path, I kept calling. Laddie spotted me and had his direction to fly. He flew up and past me and back in to the garden.

I ran back in to the garden to check that he had met up with the other ducks and would stay put. It was time to find Sir Studly. Back to the back wall and continuing to call. No answer. Along the path and finally an answering quack further down stream. No matter how much I called though, he did not appear. He could not see me, so was not certain which way to fly.

It was time for some additional help. Finding Pumpjack in his office, we both went back to the path. Mr P headed along the path listening, whilst I headed down in to the valley to the stream, calling. The valley is quite overgrown and unmanaged, with lots of fallen branches, brambles and undergrowth. Trying to get to Studly this way was not going to be easy. And I couldn’t hear him above the sound of the flowing water.

Luckily Mr P could. He called to me that he knew roughly where he was. I could triangulate on his voice. Too many branches in the way. There was nothing for it but to get into the stream and follow it to our scared little duck, calling his name as I went so he knew I was coming.

And then I saw Studly. He was swimming as fast as he could towards me, struggling against the current. When we finally met up, he swam circles around me in happiness. I herded him upstream until I could get some more solid footing underneath to scoop him up. Mr P joined us as I had called to him that I had found him. I passed him Studly to carry so I could get out of the slippery stream.

We headed back up into our garden, taking Studly in to join the others in the enclosure. I am so proud of our ducks and in awe. To first let me know where they were so they could be found, and then to actually come when called. It certainly makes it easier to deal with the odd duck drama.

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.)

And in case you were going to ask, why don’t we clip our ducks wings? We prefer they can fly to potentially get away from predators. It does cause havoc, and it is a risk, but it is a risk either way. We have trimmed our ducks flying feathers when we first moved to our new home.

As they were unfamiliar with the lay of the land, we wanted a few months for them to become used to their new place before they were able to fly again. When they moulted at the end of summer, and grew new flying feathers, they were once again able to fly. Our call ducks, Louis, Macy and Neige have a permanently clipped wing. They came to us this way. It’s not something we advocate, when it is possible to clip flying feathers non permanently.

If you would like to read more on understanding how to keep your birds from flying away, in an ethical way, we can recommend this post from Farmhouse Guide.

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