The ducks are already almost 2 weeks old and growing at an enormous rate. Last night, before putting each one in the brooder cage for the night, I weighed them on the kitchen scale. No easy job as they all struggled very hard to get off, making it hard for me to get accurate readings of their weight. The biggest duckling is already 245 grams, more than six times its original weight of 39 g! If they keep up at this rate, in a few more months they will be as big as dinosaurs, and when we can no longer provide enough food for them, they will eat us up. In fact, they already kind of look like mini dinosaurs when they are eating (see photo below, and imagine them human-sized).
Fortunately, their growth should start tailing off once they are around 5 weeks old, so we are not making any plans to leave town yet.
After all their little fuzz-butts were safely in the brooder, I covered the cage with towels, hoping they would soon get sleepy once it was dark, as usual. We were chatting with the neighbours in the kitchen over coffee, when one of the ducklings started peeping on the top of its lungs. It was pretty deafening so I went the cage to see what was wrong. There were four ducklings squeezed on top of the heating plate, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position on that little square of space. Ever since they were about a week old, they didn’t much like sleeping under it, even after I had adjusted it to its “tallest” (coolest) setting. Perhaps it is still too warm underneath now that they’ve grown so much. They much prefer to sleep on the slightly warm top surface, rather than under the rather hot surface below. That wasn’t the problem, though. The problem was that the frenzied fifth duckling wanted to join the rest on top, but she could not get on, and was screaming about it. They have grown too big to fit together comfortably on top of the plate, and one or two keep falling off, or get pushed off by a larger duckling. They are starting to learn what it means to compete for limited resources, and they can be pretty brutal to each other!
I whispered to them soothingly before they finally settled down to rest in different locations near or on top of the plate, peeping or cheeping softly to each other. They remind me of children still chatting at bed time when they are supposed to sleep! Gradually the little sounds faded away, and it was quiet. It never ceases to amaze me that once they fall asleep, no noise seems to wake them. Not loud talking from the next room, not even a broom falling over and knocking over two of my potted plants from a stand onto a steel firewood tray in the living room, making a huge crash! The ducks slept well though the night, and didn’t make a sound until morning.
I spent all day today doing yardwork and housework, and did not actually spend much time with the ducks. In the daytime, they are now mostly on their own in the pond, or sleeping on the grass near it. They seem to feel secure, as long as they know I am not far away and can see me in the garden or in the house, knowing they can come in any time for their food.
It’s hilarious when they suddenly appear in a row outside the glass patio door, peeping at me to open it so they can come in to eat! You could think of me as their on-demand feeder.
Just a moment ago, I heard them peeping loudly from the pond, so I went out to see what they wanted. They jumped out from the water on seeing me, and the whole group waddled after me back to the house to eat. After a couple of minutes, three of them left to go back to the pond, while the other two carried on eating for a few minutes. One of them finally had enough and was leaving , but the last one was hungry, still desperately eating as much as she could. Her sibling peeped at her impatiently from outside the door, and she didn’t have a choice but to leave the food and go. From the very beginning, they already seemed to know the importance of staying close together without being taught to do so, sacrificing their personal needs and wants. You could call it intelligence, or you could call it instinct. Whatever it is, I am proud of them!
Speaking of intelligence…if you listen carefully to the ducks, you will notice they make a large variety of different sounds. Peeps, whistles, clucks, grunts. The sounds are not random, and it’s quite obvious they do make specific sounds for specific purposes. We can of course differentiate the most basic “tones” – which is common to all animals who have a audible language – loud, angry tones; soft, conversational tones; insistent and urgent ones – they give you a feeling, which seems to be enough in most cases for very basic communication. I won’t be surprised if they have a language that is much more complex and meaningful than most humans can imagine, and sometimes wish I could understand what they are saying. Are they discussing the future, making plans? Do they talk about the past, share information? Do they have memories, or only instincts and feelings? I think one has to be born a duck to say for sure!