flocking with our pet duck at PumpjackPiddlewick

It is a natural instinct in a duck to flock. And by flocking, I mean wanting, nay needing, to be with others. To be part of a crowd. Safety in numbers and all that. And as ducks are essentially prey, the flock instinct is exceptionally strong.

It’s one of those things that gets called by many names. And for some strange reason, is particularly related to a species. So it is a flock of ducks, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows… otherwise known as collective animal nouns.

The beginnings of these nouns are lost in the vastness of time, but a murder of crows is thought to be one of the first, dating from around the 14th or 15th century. (More from The Medium if interested in linguistics.)

So now that the groundwork has been laid, on to imprinted ducks and flocking.

We have two imprinted ducks. First there was Maggie and five years later, we now have Gabby. I have said before that imprinting is not for the faint hearted or irresponsible. It is akin to having a baby, just one that has feathers and grows up quicker.

Imprinting is a strong bond, initially stronger than the flocking instinct. But the need to be in a group begins very early on, at about a week old, when awareness that there is a big old world out there kicks in. The equivalent of a toddler in human years.

As the duck gets older the flocking instinct slowly takes over the imprinting bond. The imprinting will always be there, that special bond with that particular someone. But like babies and their mothers, as they grow up, they start to stretch their wings, learn the world around them, eventually start to make friends (though this is later in a duck’s life than a humans life).

And finally, ultimately, they leave the nest for the other ducks (if you have them). Though saying this, if you have a pet duck, there are some differences. Especially if you bring your imprinted duck up as a house duck.

Flocking does not necessarily have to happen with other ducks. In fact, if your duck imprints on you, from essentially hatching, it may take a fairly long while for your duck to realise it is in fact, a duck.

Our Maggie started life with only ourselves, Pumpjack and I. We were her flock as far as she was concerned. At the time, we took care of rabbits, chickens and (other, non-pet) ducks. I used to take her in the rabbit compound from early on (our letter writing hide away) and she used to like to try and snuggle, or at least pull their fur. I think because they were furry, when Gigi, our ginger cat, joined us, she felt quite comfortable with her as well. The chickens and ducks, she was afraid of. And rightly so, as they would attack her as an outsider, even if she was only a duckling. So we steered clear.

She didn’t get curious about the other ducks until she could fly. She had the freedom of our cottage, to come and go as she pleased. (We lived on the estate of a small Chateau, which was completely enclosed.) Sometimes she would visit with the ducks and some times she would be with us. The ratio started to change over time until she spent most of her time with the ducks. The flocking instinct had taken over.

With Gabby it is slightly different. We now have a dog, a standard sized Dachshund named Chewy, and 2 additional cats, Lapsong and Noisette. No rabbits or chickens, but we do have ducks, including Maggie.

Gabby has a larger and more varied flock, particularly in the house, than Maggie had. He is much more content to stick with this flock then explore the world beyond. Also, we live upstairs. Not an easy thing for a non-flying duck to manage. Yet. So Gabby is reliant on being carted up or down depending. Not as much freedom to come and go as he pleases.

We anticipate his will change with learning to fly, though the getting out and down will be easier than the coming back up. Young flying ducks are notoriously poor at navigation. Maggie learned to climb our stairs in our cottage when it was time to go to bed, and eventually learned to hop back down in the morning. She has managed the stairs in our new home, though she has yet to try getting back down. But then she is not as young as she used to be, and down requires a lot more effort. And coordination. We are curious to see what Gabby learns to do.

Gabby has no fear of the cats or Chewie. In fact he is completely enamoured of Chewie and loves to hang out with him. Chewie, is a little long suffering in that he puts up with Gabby, but very much like a big brother who has to. He even rolls his eyes, when his younger brother wants to play with his ears. Whilst Gigi is enamoured of Gabby and loves to hang out with him and myself whenever possible. Where I go at the moment, of course, Gabby goes, and now Gigi can be found with us all the time as well.

From early on we have worked at our other animals acting as baby sitters. Imprinting does not give you much freedom. Ducklings cry for ‘mom’ if not in sight. And I mean ‘in sight’ literally. As Gabby has grown and the flocking instinct has also, he has become more comfortable letting me out of sight if one of the other animals are about, or Pumpjack.

I used to cart Gabby everywhere in a scarf as a duckling. Yes, even to the shops. I am sure I have a rather strange reputation in the village since Gabby liked to pop his head our of the scarf and say ‘bonjour’ to everyone we saw. And then he got too big and active to comfortably stay in the scarf for very long.

Chewy was brought in as babysitter, hanging out on the sofa with Gabby. Gabby would cry if I left, but not for too long as he had Chewy to snuggle with. And play with his ears. If however, I tried to go anywhere without another of the flock for Gabby to be with, he would not stop calling for me.

Up until last week Gabby has been frightened of the other ducks. It hasn’t helped that Gabby has turned out to be a male and it is brooding season. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is seen as competition and a threat at this moment to the other males. Once we get past brooding stage, they will be more accepting of Gabby. But we have at least another month to go, possibly two.

But I have noticed in this past week that Gabby is more comfortable, if still cautious, around the other ducks. Still no interest in them, but then he has a stronger bond with his current flock. It is possible he may always prefer his current flock to flocking as a duck. That is until he discovers girls.

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