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.

We saw this first with Maggie. She was introduced to rabbits, that we were 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, our 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.

When we 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 we 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.

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?! We 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 we 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 still will only wade into a pond up to her knees to this day, and very very rarely will go for a swim. Her preferred method of bathing is to simply fling water over herself from a plastic tub or, even better, the dog bowl.

Maggie’s bathing ritual

Fast forward 5 years and we have Gabby, also imprinted. He too loves 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 paddles about until he realises his toe can touch the bottom. Here there is a difference. Once he knows he is not going to drown, he really likes to play in his bath. So it would seem it is not instinctual for a duck to swim.

Gabby is just going through the phase of figuring out ducks are not all bad. This week he has taken to wanting to hang out in the day with the other ducks. He ‘likes’ Sir Studly the best, and tolerates, sort of, Beepbeep. I think it is because personality wise they are less threatening.

Now Maggie on the other hand, she really does not like Gabby. Which is weird, in a way, at least to human nature, as Gabby is her son. But we think it is 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.)

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

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

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

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