Today was the day we had hoped to have the ducklings sleeping in their new predator-safe outdoor quarters – the cosy new heated doghouse and attached run. I cleaned and dismantled the rabbit cage that had been their sleeping quarters the last 2 weeks, and breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to scrub it (and the entire living room floor) every morning any more. The ducklings can now poop as much as they want, outdoors!
When evening came, and their usual bed time arrived, I went out to get them into the outdoor run. However they refused to come out of the pond, although I called and called. They ignored me completely, too absorbed with catching the flies that swarmed over the water surface in their hundreds and thousands, as the sun set. I guess the ducks knew I would chuck them in the doghouse if I could lay my hands on them! I couldn’t entice them out with anything. Not even food. Giving up, I went back in the house to make dinner.
H. continued spying on them with his binoculars from the living room window, to see what they were doing and if they were safe. We had dinner in the living room, watching them till it got so dark we could hardly see them. We considered leaving them to roam free outside for the night, since they seemed so determined to stay there, but it was getting very cold, and they had no protection from predators. We saw bats flying low over the pond, frightening one of the ducks who peeped in fright.
Finally, around midnight, I opened the door and called to them one last time. Suddenly I heard a chorus of desperate peeps coming from the pond, then a group of little waddling shadows hurrying over the lawn towards us. We let in 5 exhausted, cold and wet ducklings, who first walked dazedly around in the living room, and then plopped themselves down on an old towel being used as a door mat. I think they finally realised they didn’t want to stay outdoors all night after all – with scary monsters prowling about, and strange night noises they had never heard before!
I told them they had been bad duckies, but felt sorry for them and told them they could stay in the house with us as long as they wanted, where they would be safe from monsters. They didn’t have to go in the outdoor pen if they didn’t want to. They lay on on the mat and for the moment, looked like they were going to fall asleep there.
I couldn’t very well leave them free to run around everywhere in the house over night however. I hurriedly re-assembled their old cage, put some food and water and straw in it, and grabbed the ducks (they only made feeble attempts to escape my grasp) and put them, one by one, into it. They chowed down some duck starter feed and then after I’d covered the cage with towels, went immediately to sleep.
Later H. told me he saw them huddled together, trying to sleep in a pile 4 ducks high at the edge of the pond, before they finally came in! This is a sure sign that they felt uncomfortably cold outdoors at night. In our house, it was so warm, they slept spaced apart from each other, and with their legs and necks stretched out, on the floor of the cage. Quite a comical sight if you have never seen a duck sleeping that way. I didn’t even bother bringing in the heating plate from the dog house that night.
We were actually quite happy to have them back in the house. Hearing their little sleepy noises at night, and their loud demanding peeps in the morning was a joy that we knew we would only too soon start to miss again. Although, they certainly could have let me sleep a little longer this morning! I was woken at 6.30am by 5 angry little flightless birds demanding to be let outside into the < 10 deg C air! As soon as I opened the door they rushed out as quick as possible, their flat duck feet loudly pattering over the aluminium ramp at the door and their hurrying forms disappeared within moments into the pond at the other side of the yard.
Today, we tried a different tactic to get the ducks indoors for the night. First, I brought their free-flow food dispenser into the house in the late afternoon, so they had nothing (except what they could find foraging in the pond) to eat for a few hours. At around 9pm, it started raining and H. went to the pond to check on them. They appeared very happy to see him and followed him back into the house. I fed the hungry little buggers and put them in their cage. Of course, they were only expecting to have dinner on us, and were not at all pleased about being tricked into getting into the cage, while it was still light outdoors. After catching the first couple of ducks unaware, the others tried to escape my clutches. I had to chase them around the living room, armed with kitchen paper towels, and try to grab each before they ran through their own puddles of poop!
After herding all of them into their prison for the night, I cleaned up their messes and tried as best I could to ignore the ear-splitting cries of anger and demands to be let out. I covered the cage as best as I could with cardboard and towels to make it dark, and then finally, they quieted down. As you can imagine, I felt at that moment like leaving them outdoors to fend for themselves, the ungrateful little beings. But I knew I would feel terrible if something happened to them in the night, and I could not hear their cries for help from indoors. They are still too young to be out there on their own.
Ducks are supposed to finish growing their first set of (juvenile) feathers around 4 weeks. The new feathers will help keep them warm, so that’s when I can try getting them into outdoor housing again.