Magnetic North: Bird brains and other family members

Ducklings - photo by Vicki Biggs-Anderson
Ducklings - photo by Vicki Biggs-Anderson

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, where I’m in a spot of bother with ducks…my ducks, primarily. Although, with the sheer number of mallards that show up for breakfast, lunch and dinner on my driveway, I’d never know if a migrating stray dropped in for a square meal.
 
It started small. As do all hot messes.

 
Last winter found my duck population quite pitiful; only two laying ducks, four domestic drakes, three wild drake mallards and one lone female mallard.
 
Oh, and then there is the faux domestic drake, a mallard who weaseled his way into the chicken and duck run. The cozy coop with its six inches of sweet warm straw was his reward for leaving the wild. But his punishment was harsh.
 
The domestics wanted nothing to do with him. Shunned by the females, pummeled by the drakes, his feathers soon lost their brilliant color and sheen, A clear case of “mallard-adaption.” Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one.
 
So when most Cook County folk were poring over seed catalogs, I was up to my dewlaps in hatchery offerings. I ended up ordering three female domestic ducks and 10 female mallards. 
 
Not that I have anything against males, but when drakes outnumber the females by three or more, it’s not a pretty sight. The one wild female that overwintered with her three consorts put up with all sorts of abuse last spring. So much that I finally lost it one fine day after what seemed like hours of duck porn viewing out my kitchen window, I ran into the back yard wielding a broom and shrieking for all the neighbors to hear, “Fly, you hussy, fly. I know you can, I’ve seen you do it!”
 
Well, the duck’s endurance paid off for her. In late May she hatched out 11 ducklings. Nesting under the back steps, out of view for weeks, I had given her up for lost when lo she paraded the lot up over the deck and out into the sunny gravel drive.
 
By that time, my hatchery ducklings were in a brooder inside the garage. Oh, dear. Eleven plus 10, plus mom and the two domestic girls....An even two dozen ducks!?
 
“Well,” I reassured myself and friends, “most of them will fly off in the fall.” 
 
Sadly, two of the wild ducklings were taken by a hawk. And one of the ordered mallards failed to thrive. Then, the two adult domestics got picked off by something. Nature appeared to be cutting me a break. But no.
 
On July 30, mother mallard appeared with nine more ducklings in tow. So cute, so adorable. So hungry!
 
Just about then the new ducks from the hatchery were ready to release on the pond. I bundled them into three cat carriers and carried them down, knowing that once they got on the water and away from the featherless monster who so rudely grabbed, squeezed and imprisoned them, I might never see my little charges up close again.
 
That night, I tippy-toed to the pond’s edge to check on them.
 
Gone.
 
Only the wild ducklings and the spring porn stars swan in the moonlight, Crushed, I went about my evening chores, closing up barn and coop and, surprise, surprise! The newly released youngsters were waddling about in the wildflowers by the chicken run waiting to be let back into the coop. 
 
Amazed, I shone the flashlight on each beak, counting one, two three...11?!

 
Aha! My old nemesis, the wild drake who would not live wild, had rounded up the newbies and convinced them that the good life lay - not in freedom - but in the sure thing of the well-heated chicken coop,
 
But did I open the door to the run? Did I go all soft and mushy at the return of the little darlings? I did not.
 
Hardening my heart, I left them there in the dark. Oh, I did put a little feed out and a motion sensor light so as to startle any passing predator. But I had the new babes to think about, didn’t I?
 
Mother mallard didn’t do as well with her second brood. Only four of the nine made it to adulthood. But those, added to all the others, gobble up more than three pounds of scratch feed a day, more if they can skinny into the garage and hit the tray of food set out for my retired hens.
 
“All you have to do is stop feeding them and they’ll leave,” more than one acquaintance has told me.

 
Tell that to any parent of a kid who no longer looks anything like a baby, nor eats like one. Easier said than done.
 
My fervent hope is that when the pond freezes, most of the mallard will, indeed fly away. The hussy and the mallard-adaptive drake will probably stay, leaving me with a manageable number of females in the coop, laying eggs that turn ordinary baked goods into tender fluff. Duck eggs do that, y’know.
 
At least, that is what I expect. Not plan. I know better than that. Anne Lamott, who wrote “Bird by Bird,” once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans,” Amen to that, sister! I only expect. And I keep those expectations way, way low.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North. 


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