Friday, May 17, 2013

Life with Ducklings, May 2013

We got involved with ducks two years ago. The mamas in this story were part of our original batch. They were hand-raised and accept us as their people. Soon their babies will have new homes and will start to learn the ways of their people, too. But meanwhile these are 'wild', raised by their mama, and not us. That's ok - they're adaptable. We didn't get ours until they were a few weeks old.

Hatchlings still in their bucket
The current batch of baby fluffballs hatched out about 5 days ago. Blondie, the mama, had 22 or 23 eggs under her, not necessarily all hers, and hatched 19. That's an amazing number - it means she set on them, turned them, kept them properly warm and moist, even though the eggs could have been several layers deep, for 35 days.

They hatched over about 24 hours, maybe a bit less, and when they started moving around outside their little nesting bucket, she gave up on the rest and hasn't been back to that nest since.

For the first few hours after hatching the babies rest, then they start to get active. They are not much interested in food or drink, having just absorbed what remains of the yolk, one of their last acts before emerging. We put some 'baby' food out anyway, and a waterer that is small enough that they can't climb in it and get cold or drown. 

They follow mama around for the first several days, and gradually venture forth. In our situation, their ever-widening circle soon took them to another nesting duck hen. 

They cuddled up with her just fine, sometimes leaving their mama that hatched them all alone. She'd hang around keeping an eye on them, and when she left the area - prompted by her own hunger or possibly tuned into theirs - they followed her. She had hatched them and she and they were fully bonded to each other, no matter how warm and welcoming the other mama was.

Now we've had a few rainy days, so they've been huddling under her wings. It's amazing how many babies can fit under one duck's wings and stay dry and warm. 

All has been going smoothly, even though the ducklings are getting more independent with each passing day. But then today we almost had a disaster.
Using feeder and safe waterer
I had gone out for a walk, even though there was a light mist in the air. I just wanted to circle the cul-de-sac. On my way back I heard some serious peeping, the kind a tiny duck makes if he is separated from his mama. That happens - one lags behind as the group moves along. But this peeping sounded much closer and a lot more frantic.

I ran to the back of the house and there was one of the youngsters running around outside the fence.

I had a terrible time catching him even though I thought a couple of times that I had him cornered. Finally I was able to scoop him up and toss him back with his siblings, and the mama of course. 

I needed to find where he had gotten out.

What's impressive about ducks is that they seem to know where they are at all times. As I was chasing him down he ran alongside the duck yard outside a tall cedar fence that abuts the neighbor's backyard. Later, after he was caught, I went back there and found the tiniest of gaps under the fence. I think that's where he got out, and he went back to it to get back in, though the space was tiny and hardly visible. 

Once I found it I stacked up some logs and hay against it on the inside. Baby ducks are amazing at finding their way out of fences - though not necessarily back in. 

This could have happened when I was in the house and I might not have known it and we'd never have known what happened to this duckling. He could not have survived out there indefinitely, with neighborhood cats being the least of his problems.

We have now sold 9 of the 19. So now there are only 10 little ducklings to keep an eye on - plus however many may hatch from the other mamas, sometime in the next couple of weeks.

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