What nobody tells you when you find yourself with a duck as a pet, is unlike cats, dogs, and even chickens and rabbits, there are almost no instruction manuals, helpful hint videos, or even how to sites (of any use) on how to raise a duck. So what is it like to have a Duck as a pet?
A bit of background, if you are new to Pumpjack & Piddlewick and are new to our animal antics. We take care of 3 rabbits, 3 chickens, a cockerel, and 3 ducks. The number of ducks has varied over the last couple of years, starting with 1 getting up to 5 and currently at 3. Births and birds of prey are the main reason the numbers change.
This past spring all our female ducks took to laying eggs and nesting – in various parts of the garden. One of our females, Delilah, was taken leaving her eggs abandoned. We were going to chuck the eggs, but found one pipped, took it home and hatched it, with the result being ~ Maggie. And it as been wonderful chaos ever since…
First and foremost, Ducks are very demanding. The one bit of information you do find, over and over again, is think twice about having a duck as a pet. They require a lot of attention. A lot.
Ducklings imprint on the first thing (person, dog, duck, etc.) they see, seeing that being as its protector. Over the first 24 hours you have to decide what to do about this. When we were hatching Maggie, we thought we would end up putting her with the other ducklings that were about a week old, but within those 24 hours those other ducklings were all lost to predators. Since it had taken us almost 48 hours to hatch Maggie, and it was my birthday, we were rather reticent to then put her down with the other ducks and potentially lose her too. So the decision was made to have a Duck as a pet.
The first few couple of weeks were very easy, mainly because she was so small she practically fit in our pockets. In particular she liked to snuggle into my scarf, which became a habitual accessory for me (thank goodness it wasn’t height of summer). As long as one of us was in sight, she was a happy little duck, wandering around trying to eat everything. Panic would ensue if she couldn’t see a person. This is ultimately the focus of imprinting. We were her protectors and when she couldn’t see us, she would panic which meant lots of calling out for us. She still panics even now, though a little less so, if we are together, say in the house, and then she can’t see us ~ except now she is rather loud in her panic calling.
Our biggest issue initially was not stepping on her. She would follow us around, wherever we went, literally underfoot. Instinct ~ because in the duck world a duckling will hide under its mother in the the first couple weeks if frightened. Although her running after us was very cute, it was also very obviously tiring for her since our steps are a lot bigger than a ducklings. This was another reason I carried her around the first few weeks in my scarf. She loved both being close to me, but also, I think, enjoyed having a birds eye view. She would stay there for hours and I would simply carry on with whatever I needed to do.
Ducks sleep at night. Thank goodness. Darkness meant time for bed, when all good ducks are snuggled up somewhere safe, away from predators. Watching our other outside ducks certainly helped in understanding what to do in some instances. (In others, all bets are off and we are watching and learning as we go along.) We put the ducks, chickens and rabbits inside at night. In fact the chickens put themselves to bed, and both the ducks and chickens very obviously sleep, or at least stay quiet, through the night, awakening at dawn. Cock-a-doodle-doo.
Our kitten, Gigi, arrived when Maggie was 2 weeks old. Getting Gigi had been planned and arranged a couple months previously, but that didn’t mean we had any idea of how the two would interact. We simply had hopes that as they were both very young they would learn to live together. And, we would not leave them alone in the same room. Raising the two as siblings is another story unto itself, and I will leave for another day, but I mention Gigi here as her arrival did impact on various ways we did or had to do things.
For starters, Maggie slept in a wooden box, with lamp and blanket, by a heater in our lounge for additional warmth since she wasn’t able to sleep under us (without a rather squishy result). With the addition of Gigi, and her pouncing kitten curiosity, we had to change Maggie’s bed and room. She moved into a wine box (had to be), which was draped with a blanket and kept by the bed (so I could make sure Gigi didn’t get inside). Gigi took to sleeping curled on top or by the side. As Maggie grew, so did the box until finally I gave in and purchased a travelling animal container, complete with hinged door. Luxury. I then moved her ‘bed’ into another room, and began putting her to bed as night’s darkness came on. This worked well, as she would go straight to sleep, freeing me up in the evenings to do other things.
As Maggie got bigger, she didn’t fit so easily in a scarf. Also she was far more active, so wouldn’t sit still as long. (And… she pooped more, but more on that important subject later.) So Maggie found herself down on the floor, more and more often. She still followed me everywhere, inside and out, but with her getting bigger, and me walking slowly she didn’t have to tear along to keep up with me. I developed a granny gait, and we would waddle to work in the garden. Maggie loved eating the weeds, and well, anything green. We would waddle to meet new people, where Maggie would greet them by trying to eat there shoes, or even better if they wore sandals and had berry coloured painted toenails. A real treat. And we would waddle down to the other animals, where Maggie in particular liked to hang out with the rabbits.
We never wanted Maggie to be confined solely to inside the house. The rabbits live in a large outdoor enclosure, and I introduced Maggie into their world from the very beginning, partly because it was safe to let her wander around and explore without having to keep a really close eye on her, partly to introduce her to other animals, and rather importantly with a view to the future, and Gigi’s arrival, that we might have a safe environment we could put Maggie in. Maggie consequently enjoyed both the inside and the outside and it wasn’t long before we were able to leave the door to the cottage open and she wandered at will – well, wherever we did.
Because Maggie couldn’t be left alone, we took her everywhere with us, in the garden, in the house, to the vineyard… I did find one piece of worthwhile advice and that was to use a laundry basket to help cart your duck about. Ah, fabulous, it actually gave me much more freedom as I could also leave her in the basket, where she could see me, and get on with work without having to worry about her wandering around. She came to love her basket and would happily sit and sleep in it for hours at a time.
Maggie also loved to travel in vehicles. We would take her on car journeys, like when we went to collect Gigi. She rode in my scarf the whole way, watching the scenery go by. When she got bigger, we put her in her basket on the front seat and, like a dog, she would stretch her head to watch out the window. We also put her basket on the passenger seat of our little cart and she would stand like a little cowboy, watching the garden pass by. We figured it all must have felt a bit like flying to her.
And then… Maggie learned to fly.