When most people think about ducklings, they imagine adorable little balls of fluff that amuse and entertain. Little toys that you can put away once you finish playing with them and resume your normal daily life. The reality can be pretty different.
Wild mallard ducklings are wired for survival and they are much tougher than you might first imagine. They are relentless in their drive to grow up as fast as possible. But to thrive, they also need your protection and support constantly, and you just have to try and keep up with them, physically, emotionally and psychologically. To do any less would be to deprive these wonderful beings of their greatest potential, and to deprive yourself of the opportunity to influence their lives in this little window of time you are given.
It has been just two days but the differences you can see in them from hour to hour is just amazing.
Definitely not domesticated weaklings
I started off being completely clueless about ducks. So I read many forums and articles on the internet about raising ducklings before our bunch were hatched. Unfortunately, much of what I read turned out almost completely useless. Most of it applies to domestic ducks, not wild mallards. They almost seem like two completely unrelated species.
Almost everything I read online about raising ducks describe the newly hatched young as fragile beings would have to be kept warm all the time, and very gently introduced to water and swimming in the bathtub or other small receptacle, if at all. According to the writers of these articles, ducklings shouldn’t even be allowed outdoors at all for their first weeks and shouldn’t swim till they are 2 or 3 weeks old. So I had the impression that they’d be kept indoors, inside their brooder until that age, only eating and sleeping most of the time, and would require no more than a look-in a couple of times a day to make sure water and feed bowls are filled up, and taken out to play when we fancied it.
What we have instead are 5 very wild things who can’t stand being locked up in their cage. They don’t even want to be inside the house most of the time. From the time the sun rises, they are constantly screaming (peeping) at record decibel levels to be let out. If I don’t let them out, they will start throwing themselves against the sides of the cage, or trying to squeeze between the bars, almost throttling themselves. When I allow them out of their brooder, they immediately rush to the door and I have to open it to let them into the backyard. They are however still afraid to stray too far from my side and will wait for me to accompany them to the pond, which is the only place they really want to be. And to hell with waiting 2 weeks to swim, they want to do it now now now.
Keeping ducklings warm
After each little swim session, I have to escort them back indoors to eat. They refuse to eat outdoors in the patio for some reason, and will only feed in the living room. So, in they come, and spend the next 15 minutes chowing down and making an unholy mess for their human to clean up.
After eating they get drowsy. I try to put them back in the cage-brooder where their heater plate is, so they can dry off properly and keep warm. According to many sources on the internet, this is vitally important for the first few weeks of their lives. I quote one:
At the time of hatching, ducklings require a high temperature of about 86°F (30°C). They are not yet able to regulate their body temperature and must have supplemental heat such as that provided by a brooder.
According to the same source, the temperature in their brooder may be lowered at a rate of about 3°C per week until it reaches a minimum of about 13°C when they are 50 days old.
I must say I already give them a huge leeway by allowing them to go outdoors for hours at a time in 15°C weather with water temperatures probably even lower. Unfortunately, it is hard to get them to come indoors to settle down in the brooder, as they don’t like being confined. They much prefer to sleep outdoors, or in concession to their non-duck foster mom, indoors on the floor in a patch of sunshine instead. Trying to force ducklings to do anything they don’t want to, always ends up being a battle of wills that they will eventually win by their pitiful and ear-splitting cries.
Their real mom would have taken them under her wings and they’d have cuddled against her for warmth outdoors in a safe spot under some bushes to sleep. An indoor brooder made by a human is a poor alternative. I guess they would be very happy if I lay down in the grass outside and let them sleep on me.