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 had two imprinted ducks. First there was Maggie and seven 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, and 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 though 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 2 dogs, a standard sized Dachshund named Chewy and a Griffon named Sanka. Add on 2 additional cats, Lapsong and Noisette. No rabbits or chickens, but we do have a lot more pet ducks.
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-step climbing duck to manage. So Gabby is reliant on being carted up or down depending. Not as much freedom to come and go as he pleases.
Once he learned to fly, flying out an open window and down to the ground became an option. But he still hasn’t learned to go upstairs. 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 managed the stairs in our new home, though she struggled too in getting back down. But then she was a lot older, and down requires a lot more effort. And coordination.
Gabby has no fear of the cats or dogs. In fact he is completely enamoured of Sanka and loves to hang out with her. Sanka, is a little too playful at times, but Gabby inherently knows when to be careful around her. Sanka’s favourite thing is to open her mouth and let Gabby clean her teeth. Weird.
Gigi is enamoured of Gabby and loves to hang out with him and myself whenever possible. Gigi grew up with Maggie, and always hung out with her, so she has turned her attentions now on Gabby. But Gabby acts differently to Maggie, and Gigi can’t quite figure out why that is.
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 grew the flocking instinct did also. He now is comfortable letting me out of sight if any of the other animals are about.
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.
Gabby is now completely comfortable flocking with the other ducks. In fact it’s his preferred place to be. He still comes in to the house at night, patiently waiting at the bottom of the stairs to be taken upstairs. Then its a bit of dinner and he puts himself to bed in his special spot (that he decided upon) in our bathroom.
View this post on Instagram
It’s the wee hours, sat on the sofa with these two, writing today’s Vignette about flocking and pet ducks. Guess who was my inspiration 😊 . #petduck #imprintedduck #flocking #interspecieslove #interspeciessiblings #interspeciesfriendship #interspeciessharing #catandduck #duckandcat #Gabbyduck #Gigi #toocute
PS: Love Ducks?
We have a selection of duck gifts available for you, or those you know, who love ducks. Some vintage, some our own designs, all unique. (Simply click on the photo to see more or purchase.)
(Simply click on an image to see more.)