The Dramas of a Brooding Pet Duck

The last month has been fraught with emotion as our little Maggie (pet duck) has grown up and started laying eggs. It is probably no coincidence it began with the arrival of Meeney, Minhy and Mo, two drakes and a female respectively.

Maggie was definitely not certain what to make of them on arrival. Because we brought her into the world and she lives with us as a pet, she does not quite realise that she is a duck. She responds better to human voices than duck sounds. She prefers the company of people, though will hang out with ducks at a push ~ safety in numbers and all that. It has been a very interesting study in nature versus nurture.

As our new ducklings were only about 2 months old when they arrived the immediately decided Maggie was Mum, or at least Big Sis, and followed her everywhere. And always at a run. To say this spooked Maggie is an understatement.  She took to coming indoors and climbing up on the sofa, or Pumpjack, to get away.

But then she started laying eggs, or should I say, she started disappearing each morning. She normally sleeps in the house and would very definitely tell us she had to go out come dawn.  Our usual routine was to walk down to let out the other animals, often with Gigi walking and pouncing along with us. Then one morning we only went about 20 metres, to where there was a large hedge. I do not exaggerate,  Maggie looked left and right and then sidled under the hedge.  The same the next day, and the next.

It was fairly obvious why she was going in to the hedge, but no matter how hard we looked we could never find her nest.  Then I went back to the UK for a week, leaving Pumpjack here in France, and Maggie didn’t come home that night, or the next.

Now we know one day that there is a very real chance she will be taken by a predator. She has a terrible habit of wandering about on her own, quite contentedly, but not normal for a duck (read: prey). It’s one of the reasons we have not clipped her wings, to give her a chance at getting away. However, we had every hope that this wasn’t a case of predator but nesting, and with me distraught in another country, Pumpjack searched the grounds, twice. Still no Maggie.

And then, poof, there she was. To say the relief was palpable is an understatement. Pumpjack then played Sherlock and followed her, hiding behind trees and watching where she went, which was to her usual hedge, the hedge he had searched countless times before. Still, another search, and he would have missed her if he hadn’t seen with his own eyes where she had gone. She was that well camouflaged.

He dug out her nest and put it in her ‘bedroom’ (an animal carrying case) and put Maggie and the nest in the house, where she sat contentedly. And then she decided that was it, came off the nest and carried on as normal, just in time for my return.

Also, whilst I was away, the ducklings turned into ducks, particularly the males. Meeney and Minhy now had their full colours. Maggie was definitely interested and hanging out more with them. She was very keen to get down to see them in the mornings and would then stay with them through much of the day, or bring them to visit with us if she felt a need for a change of scene.

We had left her nest in the travel carrier, though we had removed the eggs. All 15 of them!!! It wasn’t long before a new egg showed up, but at least this time it was where we knew to find her. Each day brought another egg and she would spend longer each morning on the nest.

Thus lays the groundwork for our upcoming Christmas holiday. Our first holiday in almost 3 years. We were leaving Gigi and Maggie in the capable hands of our friend Wil (a fellow Oenologist), with the agreed caveat to lock Maggie in the house if she proved too much of a handful. However, as she laid more eggs and became more broody, and with her nest upstairs in our cottage, it  became evident that it was too problematic to let her out for the short time she needed, when she needed, so he simply moved her nest box into the duck house in the garden.

Maggie comes off her nest for a half hour to an hour each afternoon, generally around 2pm. The duration depends on the warmth of the day. Warm equals longer. She charges out, talking a mile a minute and then proceeds to eat and drink as quickly as she can, running full tilt to each watering and food source she can find, fueling herself for the next 23 hours of nest sitting. If the weather is on her side, she is able to eat enough and has time to also wash several times. She splashes happily in the pond, throwing water over herself, soaking her feathers as much as possible before heading back on to the nest.

It has become a routine since my return from our holiday to visit Maggie each day as she comes off her nest. Gigi (our cat) generally accompanies me on the visit. Maggie loves to see her as well, often touching with her beak to Gigi’s nose mid-way between the eating frenzy and washing. We both watch her dash here and there, her bodyguards never far away, until after one last wash she runs back into the duck house to once more sit on her eggs. Until the next day.

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