Mick looked plump, happy and confident as I carried him down to Duckville. The sun was beginning to set behind the hills further up the valley and the chicken ladies were shuffling about on their log perch, arranging themselves ready to roost until Jonathan’s alarm call in the morning.
The ducks had started to wind down for the night, but as usual, they heard me coming and started to charge about, quacking, honking and peeping, hoping there was going to be a last feast and some play in clean water before bed time.
Mick began to wriggle in my arms, calling excitedly to his siblings and parents. Everything was looking fair set for a joyful reunion.
I opened the gate to Duckville and placed Mick on the ground. Priti and the ducklings craned like meerkats to see, and then came waddling over as fast as their legs would carry them.
Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky and Titch are now easily twice the size of Mick and have replaced much of their baby fluff with a respectable cover of feathers. I wondered if they realized that this small, hopping, fluffy bundle was the brother who left home a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know whether ducks identify each other by smell, as dogs do, but they were clearly fascinated by him.
I backed off to allow them to reacquaint themselves with their long-lost brother*. Mick peeped excitedly as they crowded around, eagerly checking out the newcomer. It was a truly heartwarming scene.
I wished I had mastered the video function of the camera: such moments come along very rarely.
Suddenly, it all turned ugly. Three of the other ducklings started to crowd Mick in a very unfriendly fashion. He squeaked with alarm as one of his siblings pecked at him and another actually stood on top of him. He wriggled free of them and hopped off rapidly to cower under a patch of weeds.
‘Maybe they will settle down,’ I thought. I decided to go and fill the chickens’ water and feed containers, so that I could watch from a discreet distance.
For the next few minutes, I witnessed the worst kind of playground terror campaign being waged against poor little Mick. As soon as he tried to come out of hiding, he was ambushed by two of his siblings. SD, the chick who thinks she is a duck, fluttered about being alarmed but useless, a bit like the wimpy blond in the old films who just squealed and covered her face with her hands as the hero took a pasting from the baddies.
Mick tried several times to find a spot where he could watch the others without incurring their wrath. He would hop to a new place and sink to the ground, just in time for one or two of the others to bustle over and start pecking at him.
The adult ducks did not really intervene, although I had the impression that Priti would have happily taken Mick under her wing, if the others had not been there.
Clearly, the prodigal duckling was not going to be allowed to settle back with his family peacefully. Indeed, there was a fair chance that I would find his poor little body dead on the ground in the morning if I left him in Duckville.
With a heavy heart, I scooped him up and headed back to the house. The loud protests of his family followed us up the garden path, but I could not risk leaving him to their tender mercies.
‘Never mind, Mick.’ I crooned, stroking his fluffy back. I could feel his heart going nineteen to the dozen as he nuzzled into me.
This morning he had gained another twenty-five grams and was ready to dig in cheerfully to a bowl of feed, once I had cleaned out his overnight mess from the sink. We shall have to find another place for him to stay soon, as he is outgrowing this temporary but convenient accommodation. He is now happily ensconced in the courtyard with a pile of salad greens alongside his bowls of feed and water.
It seems that Mick will have to stay with us until he is more or less the same size as the other ducklings. This will be a bit of a nuisance, but will give us longer to help him walk as best he can before we make another attempt to re-integrate him into the flock.
Once again, we have cause to use one of our favourite Spanish phrases: vamos a ver – we shall see!
*I still call Mick ‘he’ for the moment, although yesterday his voice started to break and he is making rather female quacking noises from time to time.