Since losing Maggie we have had ups and downs with a grieving George.
George was Maggie’s mate, essentially for his whole life. He was her son. He grew up beside her and eventually he became her protector and mate. It’s a duck thing.
Mallards don’t normally mate for life, but George has simply never left Maggie’s side. Oh sure there were a few times where she would do her own thing and George would come searching for her. But we are talking mere minutes apart from her. He was like velcro.
If you didn’t know, ducks do grieve. As their life is shorter compared to humans it stands to reason their grief is shorter too. But we discovered this week, it’s not as short as we thought.
When Maggie died, just before Christmas, George spent days calling for her. Searching out their special spots, just in case she was playing hide and seek. We could only wish, watch and cry with him.
Once he finally gave up hope that she might return he went into his bedroom (a cat carrier in our bathroom), tucked his beak in his feathers and went quiet. He didn’t eat for days, which truly worried us. We were very concerned he was actually giving up on life.
But slowly, slowly he began to emerge. First to bathe. George loves to stand in his little pool of knee height (his knees) water. Mealy worms, a favourite treat, enticed him to start eating. Until finally one day he made the decision he wanted to go outside. We took this as a good sign, that he was waddling back in to the world of the living.
As ducks are flock animals, we naturally assumed he would eventually wish to join our flock again. The day came, and in amongst them he waddled. Only to be picked on, fought with and generally ostracised.
Ducks, like most animals, have a pecking order. And as he and Maggie rarely hung out with the flock they didn’t really have a place in that order. Well not completely true. Maggie was Queen of all, and George by virtue of velcro had a fairly lofty position in consequence. Without Maggie, he had to re-establish himself.
The problem was he was weak from his grieving. So down to the bottom of the pecking order he went. And stayed. Ducks do not like weakness. They will even kill a weaker duck if they feel it will strengthen or protect the flock.
There was a spark of hope when George took an interest in one of our little mallard girls, Betty. We are in the midst of finding a mate season, where the males are fighting over the females. Trying to show who is better. And the females are deciding whom they prefer. Sadly, George lost out on Betty.
He took to hanging about with BeepBeep, our blind duck. He has known her his whole life, so possibly there was some comfort there for him. But eventually her little entourage of protectors shooed George away.
Two days ago, I let the ducks out of their enclosure for their morning run around as usual. I noticed George sort of standing off quietly to the side. Quiet and ducks is not a good sign. So immediately I scooped him up and checked him over. After a bit of a snuggle, he tried biting my jacket toggle and eventually squirmed to get down. Good signs.
When it came time to put the ducks back in the enclosure, there was no sign of George. Searching in all his usual haunts, I eventually found him tucked away in the stable, on an old nesting place of Maggie’s. It’s truly heart wrenching to see not only his grief, but that he no longer has a place in the flock. Or at least he doesn’t have the energy to make one.
George has always been our Rocky. Not the brightest spark, but tenacious and fierce. He was always willing to fight for Maggie. Now the spark had gone out of him.
We brought him inside and to his old bedroom. He headed straight in to his cat carrier bed. Fresh food and water in his swimming pool and we were happy to hear George eating and quacking a little while later.
Hopefully it is only that not being able to fit in he has been struggling in getting to food and nourishment. We’ll keep him inside to build up his strength and generally keep an eye on him. The old routines seem to have given him a base.
As time passes he has taken to wanting to spend more time with me. That flock instinct. He likes to sit by my feet, under the desk, when I am working there. Or in one of the cat beds when I am not sitting down.
He is still not eating enough, but we are seeing a return of his personality. George’s grieving process may take a bit more time than we realised. It’s a first for us all, and we continue to learn from it. It may be that he decides ultimately he prefers the inside flock of humans, cats and dogs to that of the ducks. We will simply see what each day brings, and will let him decide what is best for George.
More Duck Tails
If you would like to read more about Maggie, from birth to death, you will find her Tales here.
If you would like to know more about ducks and their behaviour, have a gander at our Ducks 101.
And if you would like to read more about George – Maggie and George.
More Duck Stuff
And should you be on the lookout for duck and other animal inspired gifts – you’ll find quite a few in our shops.