Ducklings: Day 8 – Getting older and wiser

I woke up this morning about 6 am. The ducks were already making noise in their cage downstairs, and when they heard me get up, they started peeping very loud – it’s a sound you just cannot ignore because it will drive you nuts.

They are quite quiet when they are content, most of the time this is when they are outdoors, where they would rather be as long as it is daylight, even when it is under 10 deg C and a chill wind is blowing!

DSCN7671They spend most of their time at the pond foraging for food, chasing flies and wasps, bathing and diving, when they are tired out they will all climb out and huddle close together to go to sleep on the wooden deck or on the brick path or gravel on the pond edge. It can get quite cold when the sun is not shining – although I think they need to get used to the outdoors I felt quite sorry for them not having a mother to shield them with her wings and warm them with her body heat, so I made them a small makeshift shelter with a cardboard box and some straw near the pond, so they had a place to rest out of the wind. They don’t want to huddle up to me or climb up my jeans leg like they did a week ago!DSCN7707

I think we are starting to understand what they try to communicate to us – they (or rather their chosen representative) will peep very loudly at us when they want something. For example, when they want to come inside to eat, or when they want to get out of the pond to go somewhere else. I don’t know if this is just their way of letting me know their whereabouts, or because they want me to act as bodyguard. Also they call out when they can’t see me and want to know where I am.

So we would be working in some corner of the garden, and then suddenly I’d hear PEEP!PEEP!PEEP!PEEP!PEEP!PEEP! and will have to come running to see what they want next or if they are in trouble of some sort.

I have read many stories on the internet about people losing their ducks to predators like hawks and eagles, not to mention foxes, cats, dogs, weasels etc.  I am a bit worried that the ducks will attract attention of local wildlife (and not-so-wildlife, like the neighbourhood cats).

This morning a crow or some other large black bird flew low over the garden just as the 5 ducklings were lounging on the pond deck with me sitting next to them. They responded far quicker than I – one duck gave out a very loud EEEEEEEEEK!! and all five rushed towards each other, and two of them jumped into the pond. The other three ran to the edge but did not jump in – but by this time, the bird had gone.

They have definitely some form of communication with one another – they can be all in the pond, foraging among the water plants, then suddenly at some unseen signal from one of them, all will jump out simultaneously and then waddle in a column to our house, and I have to run to go open the door for them to go to their feeding area inside.

DSCN7726It also seems very important for them to stay together as a tight group. Sometimes, one of them would still be eating in the house, while the rest want to get back to the pond, and are waddling (and pooping on the way) out of the door. The last duck would have to abandon the food to keep up with the others. If any of the ducks is distracted when the others are leaving, and then discovered he was alone, he’d start peeping real loud and the rest will usually run back and wait for him before they continue.  Individual needs and wants have to be sacrificed for the sake of the group’s survival, because there is safety in numbers. If a duck ignores this, he or she would soon find himself in a very unsafe situation.

Once, I left one daydreaming duck in the pond, and with the other 4, went in the house. These ducklings were already eating before Mr. Lone Duckling noticed he was all by himself. We could hear his frenzied peeping all the way across the garden. When I called out to him, he immediately jumped out of the pond, and waddled across the lawn – but somewhat hesitantly because he couldn’t hear the sounds of his siblings.

They are so used to being by themselves now that they are more imprinted on each other than on me (or us) and don’t follow me around like they used to. They are now more inclined to look for each other to hang out with, than for us.

H. says they know we aren’t really ducks, although we look after them, and they don’t want to cuddle with us any longer and don’t quite trust us either. We are always making them do things they don’t enjoy, like being forced to sleep in a cage. These days, I can call for them all I want from the house, but if the sun is shining they just ignore me and come only when they are hungry.

H. still plays with them a lot. When he removes fallen leaves and debris from the pond, they like to jump in the pond net to eat the algae and stick their bills under the leaf litter, taking a free ride and in the process kicking all the dirt and leaves back into the water. He would then “punish” the offender(s) by raising the net, taking them out of it and then putting them inside his jacket! They seem to like it fine however, and have not been deterred 🙂 He will also pick up a duck or two when they are resting by the pond, and hold them in his cupped hands or crook of his arm and they will contentedly remain there for up to half an hour! As long as they are near their siblings and can see/hear them they are quite calm. Once they lose sight of the other ducklings, they start to panic and then they will do all they can to get away from our grasp!

DSCN7719One side effect of all this time spent looking after the ducks is that we’ve managed to get quite a bit of yard work done since we are up so early, and also we’ve got to experience all the changes in weather throughout the day as well as observe our local wildlife. In particular, other bird species that live in our garden. We have become familiar with their sounds and habits as well. One bird species has a call that sounds like “Get real! Get real! Get real!” it’s quite comical. Some of these birds seem curious about our ducks – a pair of thrushes flew to and fro over the pond to look at the small ducklings when they were huddled together, sleeping on the pond edge. The blackbirds who seem very tame also walk quite near the ducks while looking for worms in our garden. The ducklings pay them no heed – they know these birds aren’t predatory.

This evening, I was in the living room when I heard a loud peeping at the door – the 5 ducks were standing outside waiting for me to open the door. I let them in and they ate, and were about to go out again when H. signalled me from outside that I should get them into their cage for the night. He later told me that the ducks had attempted to leave the pond and go to the house several times (to eat) but he called them back to the pond and insisted they get back into the water. Apparently they gave him funny looks but did it anyway. He wanted them to get really cold, hungry and tired out, so it would be easier for us to get them in their cages and make them go to sleep!

We weighed them this evening – we have been weighing them every day – and were shocked to see that they are all already more than 3 times the weight they were 1 week ago. Can you even imagine? At the very beginning, they were putting on just 3 or 4 grams of weight a day, then it was 5 to 8 grams, then 10 grams and now they are putting on 20 to 25 grams a day (about 20% of their weight). Duck #1 has always been the biggest – he/she was 39 grams last Monday and today he is a whopping 137g!!

The ducks are so much bigger that they can get out of the pond much more easily now. They don’t require the little pile of stones as a “staircase” any longer. Their necks are longer, their chest muscles more developed and their bodies also larger – only their wings are still so tiny, they look like a joke. When the ducklings wake up from their nap, they stand straight up on tiptoe, stretching themselves tall and flap their little wings (and sometimes yawn). We can’t help laughing at these little antics.

I ordered some plastic clip-on pigeon leg bands in different colours from a poultry and farm supply internet store. This will help us identify and differentiate our 5 ducks. I haven’t named any of them yet, since we don’t know their genders and are only starting to notice different personality traits and physical differences.

I have to start looking for a dog house and elements to build a predator-safe pen, in case we have to house the ducks outdoors before they are able to fly. I have a feeling at the rate they are growing, they won’t fit in the brooder within one or two weeks’ time! It is already getting hard to catch them to put in their cage when I want them to go to bed 🙂

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