Ducks are Devious-ly Clever

Last year, in spring, we bought 2 female mallard ducks for our mallard drake. We had tried him out on a wood duck. He bonded, she didn’t (and that’s another story). So with a moping male, we decided it might be safer to get him 2 girlfriends. He was, to put it mildly, thrilled.

We were soon enjoying duck eggs. First one a day, then 2 a day, and then 4 a day! We duly took them and enjoyed them. And then, Lucy, the younger female, decided she wasn’t having any of that. She was not going to go through all the effort of laying eggs (and it is an immense amount of effort for a duck) for us to take them.

Now our Lucy is a conniving one. She worked out if she waited for the clutch of 8 or so before she brooded she would be in for a long wait. So, with only 2 eggs in the nest the girls had built (in the chicken house!), she sat. If we came near to get the eggs, she puffed herself up and hissed. Then Delilah, our other female, got in on the act. They took it in turns to sit whilst the other stretched her legs, ate and socialised, making sure there was someone guarding the nest at all times.  The eggs became 4, then 6 then 8 in a matter of a couple days and then they both sat, side by side on the nest. Nobody was getting past these sentries to their potential duckings.

Who were we to go up against a pair of brooding ducks?

A month later we had 2 ducklings. Now the thing (we learned) about having 2 females sit on a nest is that you are likely to have less little ones. The girls left their nest as soon as the first two were born, leaving the others behind. We didn’t know this until it was too late, so weren’t able to save the remaining eggs. It was a sad moment when we realised they weren’t going to return to the nest and hatch the rest. Another lesson learned.

Yet, we still had two new ducklings, and what a treat they were to watch grow, doubling in size every day! The two mothers watched over them wonderfully, protecting them from everything, including their father. Unfortunately our Mr Drake turned out to be a jealous soul. He would try and peck the little ducklings, so we had to seperate him, keeping him outside of the duck enclosure during the day, putting him away in his own house (whilst the new family went into the chicken enclosure) during the night.

But, he was protective of his new family, marching around the enclosure during the day, quacking, quacking, quacking. (Our Mr Drake has always been a very talkative fellow.) Once the duckings were large enough, we let the family be reunited and gave them the run of the garden. It was wonderfully comical to watch them march around the garden, usually in a line, first the proud papa (quacking as he waddled), then Delilah, then the two little ones and Lucy bringing up the rear. The two ducklings grew into two more girls.

And now spring is coming and Mr Drake has got himself quite the harem. A couple of weeks ago we found our first duck egg in their house. Then another. Sometimes there are no eggs, and once we had 4.  And then the other day I let them out and shortly after realised one of our girls was missing. We are always anticipating the day when our teenagers might find a boyfriend from the nearby river, and assumed this may have been the case. However, she was back that afternoon. Then this morning, the same thing. I had a good look for her this time and found her, well hidden, in the hedge. The light bulb dawned.

It takes a duck an hour to lay an egg, so dutifully I waited and after she left her nest returned to the hedge. It took me quite a long time to find the nest back. She had covered the eggs with leaves and if I hadn’t had a good idea where to look I never would have found them. There were 4 eggs in her nest. We do not want more ducks, so I took 3 of them, leaving 1 in hopes she would continue laying there and not find a new spot. And, I am sincerely hoping, that the 4 girls do not gang up on us this year.

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