Are duck instincts nature or nurture or both at PumpjackPiddlewick

When is a duck not like a duck? When it is an imprinted duck. A duck that imprints on, say, a human loses some duck instincts. And the other ducks are quick to notice.

No Fear

I saw this first with Maggie. She was introduced to rabbits, that I was looking after, when she was days old. Since they were much bigger than her she had a healthy caution of them. But with time spent in their enclosure, whilst I was letter writing, she started to follow them about and play with their fur. As she became bigger she enjoyed chasing them about.

When Gigi, my then kitten, joined us Maggie was quick to do the same. She had already decided that furry creatures were all right by her. She liked to sleep cuddled into Gigi, or sometimes they would play together. Maggie pulling her whiskers and Gigi batting (claws retracted) back.

Her duck instincts did kick in with Gigi now and then, when she was in attack or pounce mode. Then Maggie would make certain there was some distance between herself and a predator cat. She somehow knew when it was not safe to play with her furry sibling.

Not Like Them

When I went to visit the other ducks, Maggie wanted nothing to do with them. Nor they with her. There was no sign of recognition from them. Like she didn’t exist. This did change once she grew into adulthood and could lay eggs, but even then she was generally ostracised by the other ducks.

It wasn’t until I bought in some young ducks to hang out with Maggie, when she was a year old, that she became more duck like. She became queen bee and in having a court to command she decided then that ducks were okay.

Natural Instincts

And you would think swimming was a natural duck instinct. But, no. Who knew you had to teach a duck from an early age to swim?! I used to put her in the sink and she had a paddle about, but then she became too big. She started to join me in the shower instead. She loved nothing more than to try and catch water droplets as the spray came down.

After this, when I put her into a little duck pond she would panic if her toe could not touch the ground. She literally dog paddled, rocking about and not really going anywhere. She would only wade into a pond up to her knees to, and very very rarely would go for a swim. Her preferred method of bathing was to simply fling water over herself from a plastic tub or, even better, a dog bowl.

Maggie’s bathing ritual

Times Two

Fast forward 5 years and I had Gabby, also imprinted. He too loved the dog bowl water flinging method of bathing. If I put him even in a washing up bowl of water (no soap included) he dog paddled about until he realised his toe can touch the bottom. Here there was a difference. Once he knew he was not going to drown, he really liked to play in his bath. So it would seem it is not instinctual for a duck to swim.

Gabby also went through the phase of figuring out other ducks were not all bad. Once he reached teenagedom he took to wanting to hang out in the day with the other ducks. He ‘liked’ Sir Studly the best, and tolerated, sort of, Beepbeep. I think it was because personality wise they were less threatening.

This One is Not Like the Others

Now Maggie on the other hand, she really did not like Gabby. Which was weird, in a way, at least to human nature, as Gabby was her son. But I think it was about two things, territory and imprinting. Ducks are naturally territorial, like most animals. New ducks have to vie for their piece. And the other ducks do their utmost to drive away other, especially male, ducks. (Until they start to pair up, and then it is all change.)

I know already that ducks can sense when another duck is not like them, eg imprinted. This is the first time I encountered it between two imprinted ducks. I thought the imprinting would create a bond since they were both different, or at least because they had slightly different duck instincts. But I was very surprised to find it the opposite. Weird. And I am wondering why.


I am considering that ducks get jealous. Especially if they are imprinted on a non-duck. Maggie certainly didn’t like that Gabby got to be with me. She was Queen bee after all. As far as I could spy (and I mean literally) when I was not around, e.g. I was hiding and watching, Maggie simply ignored Gabby. But if I was in the enclosure, Maggie would prefer Gabby was any where else but near me and let him know it.

And Gabby tried to protect me from anything and everything. Cats, guinea pigs, other ducks. When I came to check on him during the day, whilst he was with the other ducks, he was quick to come over and great me, play with me and make certain that no other duck was allowed to. I guess I was his version of territory. Until he discovered girls…

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