I have been a duckling mother now for two weeks. And it may be my memory, but I am enjoying this so much more than the first time. Yes, there are differences, but experience is a very helpful thing.
When Maggie was hatched everything was new, experiences and mistakes alike. And through it all Maggie continued to surprise us by hanging in there. Hindsight can be an amazing thing in that I now realise how lucky we were that she lived.
Fast forward 5 years and now I find myself a duckling mother to Gabby. It’s her turn to be carted everywhere, wrapped in the perpetual scarf around my neck.
I discovered the scarf trick by accident with Maggie. You see, a duckling would normally sleep and stay warm nestled under or in it’s mum’s feathers. Since I appeared to be lacking in feathers, Maggie discovered my hair.
She would be nestled in my hands for warmth, as we hung out on the sofa. As she became a few days old and less wobbly, she started exploring her new home, aka me. She would climb up me and find the crook of my neck and settle in under my hair there. I guess it was the closest variation of a normal duckling mother.
To gain some freedom, e.g. get me off the sofa, I came up with the idea of wrapping one of my ever present scarves around her, essentially securing her papoose like against my neck. It was a wonder. Suddenly I found I was able to do things again, with both hands!
We did have the odd mishap, when Maggie would wriggle and fall out of the scarf. How she survived her various tumbles I will never know. But I do know that ducklings remind me of nerf balls (if you remember those).
With Gabby I have more experience to rely on and find times when I can use both hands, versus playing it safe and only using one. The other hovering or cupping my little duckling in situ.
This time around there is more awareness of rhythms. As ducks are incredibly routine orientated, it stands to reason so are ducklings. So here we are ensconced on the sofa again, but after the first day of real newborn helplessness, the timings are already becoming apparent. And lengthening as she grows up by the day.
Just like a baby, she sleeps a lot. Yeah! This is followed by feeding and then activity, until she wears herself out and falls asleep again. And like a little child she gets over tired and has tantrums when she does.
As well, she will fight sleep, desperately trying to stay awake, her eyes drooping, drooping to shut, her head lolling, only to be snapped back upright, wide eyed, peeping ‘I’m awake! I’m not sleepy. Really.’ And the eyes start to close again.
We time our day around her pattern. When she is at her food bowls eating, I sit on the sofa and get work done. Playtime (she has various cat toys, but a piece of straw will also do the trick) may mean more work gets done. Or she follows me and explores around me whilst bending or lifting chores are completed that can’t be done when she is to be found in the scarf.
And all ‘ground time’ is handled with a sliding foot gait. There’s always a chance Maggie or now Gabby would decide to run by our feet, even over them, and the next thing you know you have flipped them over or kicked them to touch. Again, with experience comes less mishaps. Hopefully.
Timing now is all about working out ahead of time when to undertake chores that need both hands. As Gabby falls asleep I plan my reconnaissance, whether cooking and eating dinner, hanging and putting away laundry, parcelling up our shop purchases, or actually going to the shops.
Yes, you pictured it rightly, Gabby comes with me, no matter where I go, snuggled in my scarf. This includes shopping. She may say the odd sleepy peep, but otherwise no one has a clue. Or their minds can’t equate my peeping, sometimes wriggling scarf, and they simply don’t ‘see’.
Except now she is two weeks old. She still fits in my hand, just. And she has become used to asking to come ‘up’ to sleep at my neck, as well as ‘down’ when she is no longer sleepy. But she is also much more active, and sleeping less.
So today our village Post Mistress and both food shop owners had the chance to meet Gabby. She introduced herself by popping her head out of the scarf with a definite peeped ‘bonjour!’ each time. She, like most ducks, has a very healthy dose of curiosity and she obviously felt it was time she meet more people.
Duly cooed over, held and questions asked, Gabby then settled right back into her ‘bedroom’ in my scarf. Quite the adventurous day for a little duckling.
And should you be wondering ‘why didn’t you just leave her at home’? It would be the equivalent of leaving a newborn baby or toddler at home. She only knows me as her Mum now, and relies on me for warmth, food and safety.
If I leave the room for even a second, the alarm peeping starts and she comes running trying to find me. If she had siblings, it would be easier as the flock instinct would make her feel safe amongst them, but as I, Pumpjack, our cats and dog are now her flock, her need is to be with us, and particularly me.
There is a lovely difference this time though in the imprinting. With Maggie, because she was hatched by me, she only knew me on a complete level as mum. I really couldn’t leave her at all. With Gabby because she had her first 24 hours with Maggie she has an understanding on some level that I have taken over as mum, rather than being actual duckling mother.
She is imprinted on me, but she will also follow or snuggle up with Mr P, Chewie or the cats. Heady little moments of freedom indeed (though if the snuggling is with one of the cats I don’t yet leave her alone.)
Gabby particularly adores Gigi, our ginger cat. And Gigi seems to have taken to her as well. She likes to groom her, lets her pull her whiskers, and likes to play with her. Though here we have to exercise caution as Gigi is playing like Gabby is a kitten, so although claws are retracted, she can be a little too rough. I suspect when Gabby is a month old and bigger, these two will have a much better time playing.