It’s been a while since the duck contingent took up residence. Hearing their little ducky voices is a pleasure and watching them waddling about and playing in the ‘pond’ in a ducky fashion a joy.
However (and it has been quite a big however) we had not reckoned on Ducky McDuckface being a seething mass of ducktosterone. He is taller and a little larger than Pablo Mallard, and may be a little more mature. It did not take long for him to decide that he was going to have his wicked way with poor little Louisa. He chased her about and leapt on her in a very unchivalrous fashion. Pablo cowered, wringing his wings and unable to protect his lady. I tried to convince myself that this was the way of ducks and that nature is a wonderful thing.
One morning, not long after they arrived, I caught Ducky bullying Pablo mercilessly. It did not matter how hard Pablo tried to find a corner out of the way, Ducky would seek him out and try to leap on his back and peck at his head. It was not nice to behold.
“Stuff nature!” I thought, and doused him mightily with the hosepipe every time he charged at Pablo. After twenty minutes or so, he seemed to have got the message. This was a Good Thing, as I was in the grip of a post viral lurgy and could not stay there all day, ready to intervene.
Pablo sidled into the corner near where I was standing and stood very quietly, hoping he would somehow become invisible. I gave him the ‘parent to child dealing with a playground bully’ talk and made my way back to the house to regroup.
A couple of hours later, I went to check how things were. Poor Pablo was sporting a very bald, very red patch where his lovely iridescent green ‘balaclava’ should have been and Ducky was shamelessly beating him up.
Pablo was subdued enough by the experience to be quite relieved when I scooped him up and removed him from danger. I popped him back in the crate he had arrived in, to give me time to think.
Not feeling very well and unable to undertake major construction work, I kitted out one of the ‘triangle houses’ with feed and water so that he would be safe. As these little houses were originally built to be suitable for broody hens, there was definitely not enough room for him to be in there long-term, but it would have to do until I had the energy to sort out something better.
Ducky McDuckface was furious. He pecked at the mesh of the triangle house and threatened to dig under the door. I erected a barricade and told him what I thought of his thuggery.
The following day, Geoff helped me cordon off a small section of the pen. As Ducky McDuckface was the aggressor, it was only fair that he should be the one whose liberty was curtailed. Pablo was reunited with the ladies and I retreated to my bed for the rest of the day.
The girls were laying an egg each every day by now. Peace seemed to reign and I continued topping up the water bowls and feeders when I collected the eggs. The hope was that after a period of reflection upon his misdeeds, Ducky could be re-released and become a functioning member of the duck community.
Meanwhile, Louisa had made a little nest behind the water tank ‘pond’ and seemed to be spending a great deal of time sitting on it. Curiously enough, both Louisa and Priti were laying eggs in the same nest, but only Louisa showed any interest in caring for them. This fits well with what I had read about the relative mothering skills of mallards and Indian Runners.
A crazy idea occurred to me: why not see if she would incubate some hen eggs for us? Online chicken purchases seemed to be very expensive, unless you were not fussy about the conditions the chickens were kept in, in which case we might as well buy locally. We really are not keen on the way the local hens are treated, with their cramped cages and mutilated beaks.
There was little point in letting Louisa sit on duck eggs, as we had no evidence of Pablo courting either of the girls. Jonathan has no such doubts hanging over him: his enthusiasm has been noticed on a regular basis!
For several days, I would collect a couple of the hen eggs from the Chicken Palace nest box and swap them for the two blue eggs in the nest. I had no idea whether Louisa would smell a rat (or a chicken) but she kept returning to the nest, so all seemed to be going well.
Once she had eight brown eggs to care for, I stopped adding more and just removed the blue ones. After a few days, she stopped laying and stayed even more on the nest.
Ducky McDuckface was spending much of his time pressed against the partition, as close as he could get to Priti, so I decided it might be kindest to divide the pen in half and let the two couples live in a sort of semi-detached flock. I was feeling a little more like my normal self, so I made a start.
While I was working on the partition, the ducks somehow all ended up in the same end and Ducky immediately set about attacking Pablo. Clearly the separation was necessary. At some point, I shall replace the Heath Robinson partition with something a little easier to navigate. Currently, I have an old fireguard wired in place as a door and it is a bit of a rigmarole getting in and out to change water and feed and collect Priti’s eggs.
Louisa has now been sitting on her nest for a couple of weeks. She hops off from time to time to have a paddle, grab a bite to eat and stretch her legs. She has lined the nest with soft feathers from her chest and if she is going to be away for any time, she covers it over with bits of vegetation. She appears to be taking her duties very seriously.
Last week, I found one egg some way away from the nest, broken and empty. Presumably, Jonathan had failed to fertilise that one, or the embryo was not developing properly. She has shown no signs of rejecting any of the other seven, so we could see the first chicks hatching toward the end of next week.
We have no idea whether she might drown the chicks trying to teach them to swim, or if she will realize they are not ducklings and kill them. The jury is out on whether this could all end gloriously or in bloody carnage. We may have to rescue the remaining eggs and incubate them ourselves if she turns vicious with the first chicks.
As the locals say, Vamos as ver!