Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
-Kenneth Graham, Duck’s Ditty from The Wind in the Willows
The total duckling tally has settled at six, so our original idea for names has been jettisoned in favour of Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. We have not allocated names to specific ducklings as yet, with two exceptions.
Although at first glance they all look very much the same, there are some differences in size – Mick and Titch are smaller than the others having been the last to hatch. There are also differences in colouring. Some of the ducklings have more yellow about the throat and chest, some have pale flashes on their wingtips and one is a slightly paler brown than the rest.
(I should say at this point that we do not know the gender of any of our ducklings. It is possible to sex them at a very early age, but I do not see any value in distressing them and their mother by messing them about. My default setting seems to be to call them all ‘he,’ based on no rational thought process whatsoever.)
Mick is our ‘special needs’ duckling. While his brothers and sisters toddle about like tiny fluffy skittles, this poor little mite shuffles and drags himself behind them. The only time it is not obvious that he has mobility difficulties is when he is dabbling about in the water, happily sifting for food.
It is noticeable that the family looks out for its weakest sibling. If Mick stops and peeps his distress that he cannot keep up, they will rapidly gather around, cuddling close and calling for Priti to come.
Priti is fiercely protective of all her babies and was livid when I picked our lame duckling up to see if there was any obvious cause for his inability to walk. A very swift check showed that one of his ankles is folded at a strange angle. It appears to have fused into a rigid, inward pointing joint that keeps the foot tight against his body. We have neither the knowledge nor the facilities to correct this deformity, but as the pen is completely secure against predators, we think Mick has a fair chance to develop and have a happy life, especially if he continues to get about well in the water. I suppose it is possible that exercising in the water may have beneficial results. We shall have to wait and see.
Titch did not have the best start, having such a fight to get out of his egg that he ended up on the opposite side of the shelter and wedged under the threshold. I discovered him in time to gently remove him from under the heavy beam and leave him back in the middle of the shelter. Priti was furious with me for touching him, but as soon as I left the duck compound, his siblings gathered around in a protective circle and she hurried over to cuddle them all under her body and warm the new arrival.
The following morning, two days ago, Titch was sprawled on the floor in the shelter, barely moving. Priti and the other ducklings appeared to have given up on him and he was pitifully limp and cold when I crept in and picked his poor little body up.
There was still a hope that he might pull through, as he was breathing and moving his head slightly, but I feared he was too cold and I was too late.
Surprisingly, by the time I had brought him back to the house, he had warmed up a little in my hands and was managing to wriggle slightly and even make a few tiny distress noises. I nestled him into my ample frontage and prepared for a few hours of intensive duck cuddling.
Poppy was desperate to see what was hidden about my person. She has been very interested in the ducklings and spends hours lying as close to them as she can get. I showed her the tiny duckling and she whiffled gently, sniffing at him and trying to persuade me that she should be allowed to give him a wash. When I told her he was too tiny and weak for her to mother, she settled by my chair, watchful and concerned.
Gradually, Titch began to dry out and fluff up. His wrigglings became slightly more energetic, so I decided to see if he would accept some water and food. Feeding such a tiny baby is a palaver, to say the very least, but gradually he took a few drops of water dripped onto his beak from my fingernail. Geoff scrambled an egg so that if Titch was willing to eat, he could have something that would approximate the nutrition he had been receiving while he was in his egg.
Seeing this tiny little creature tentatively taking crumbs of egg was hugely encouraging. With each sip of water and crumb of food he seemed to become stronger and his downy fluff continued drying well. By late morning, he was happily fishing for crumbs of egg and drinking from my hand.
However, his left foot was very limp with his toes folded together, while his right foot was looking wide and flappy and properly ducky. He had not produced any evidence that his innards were processing what he was eating and drinking. I decided that I would take his first poop as a sign that he could be returned to his family, as long as his foot was functioning.
Poppy had been waiting patiently to help care for Titch. We know how gentle she is with baby animals and how she loved Dick van Duck, so we let her sniff him and give his face and bottom a quick wash.
Shortly after, Titch began struggling vigorously, and as I tried to adjust my position to allow him to move, he pooped copiously down my front and all over my hand. His innards were clearly functioning!
Now we needed his foot to start looking properly ducky. I gently spread his toes over my little finger. There did not appear to be any injuries or deformities. I was thrilled to see that once I had spread his toes, Titch seemed to get the idea of how it needed to be held, and he started trying to move both his legs to scramble about on my lap.
At around midday, three or four hours after he had looked unlikely to pull through, I returned him to his family. I placed him on a patch of soft weed and was gratified to see that by the time I had shut the gate behind me, his siblings were clustered around him and Priti was bustling over to make sure all was well.
By late afternoon, he was toddling about and playing happily in the water with his siblings.
Priti had clearly accepted Titch back into the family, Louisa’s foster baby, SD, was spuddling about in with the runner ducks and their babies, but nobody seemed to mind and Pablo and Louisa were quietly slurping and sifting through the puddle in their part of Duckville.
Once again, all was well. I left Poppy supervising from her favourite spot by the fence and headed back to the house for a very late breakfast.