Ducklings Week 5: Leg band woes

The weather was very hot just a few days ago, then the wind changed direction – from south to north. It turned icy cold, in spite of the summer sunshine.

This one's definitely a girl!

This one’s definitely a girl!

The ducks are growing way too fast! They are almost adult-sized and have almost all their feathers already. They look like small versions of adult female Mallards. I still call them my “babies” anyway! They live outdoors full-time now, and sleep wherever they like at night – usually in the pond, or very near the water.

The leg bands I ordered on the internet came a few days ago. We had been thinking of banding them for some weeks now but it was hard to decide on the type of band (metal, plastic, spiral or clip?) and I was also doubtful if we should even put a band on a growing duck. What if it got too tight and cut off their blood circulation?

We'd hoped to identify our mallards with these leg rings.

We’d hoped to identify our mallards with these leg rings.

Nevertheless it would be great to finally be able to identify each duck more easily by using different coloured bands for each. If they left us and came back to visit in subsequent years, we would also then be able to recognise them easily.  The rings I finally ordered were for adult ducks, and were plastic clip-on rings that were supposed to be easily removable. You could also write on them.

We put these plastic clip rings on the legs of three of the ducks yesterday. I have read many articles about banding both domestic and wild ducks but there was no mention of how the wild ones react to being banded – I was assuming ducks don’t have many nerve endings in their legs and won’t feel the ring or be disturbed by its presence. I had also not heard of any problems associated with banding farmyard fowl.

So much for our smart ideas. Our poor ducks freaked out the moment the rings were placed, and immediately tried to shake or bite them off. Their siblings also pecked at it, and the ducks strained and struggled to rid themselves of the bands. I felt uncomfortable seeing them like this, but thought they would eventually get used to it – and indeed after an hour or so, I saw them foraging in the pond, seemingly unconcerned about the rings, and thought all was well again. That was yesterday.

A rather unflattering image, but he will be handsome soon!

A rather unflattering image, but he will be handsome soon!

This morning, when I opened the door to the backyard , all 5 ducks came running up to me, and I saw to my horror that the three with bands were limping, one of them quite badly. He/she kept sitting down whenever he could – as if his leg hurt too much even to stand. I decided the bands were responsible and had to come off immediately before anything worse happened. These plastic clip rings are supposed to come apart again when you pull them, but some of them were too stiff and the ducks squealed in fear when we we were pulling to get them opened. In the end I simply cut them off with a wire cutter,  one duck at a time. No more leg rings!!! I would rather not be able to tell my ducks apart, rather than have them suffer and possibly putting them even more at risk for predators because they can’t walk or run properly.

Baby, our littlest duck.

Baby, our littlest duck.

One of the three, the smallest one of all, was very quiet and did not struggle when I held him, he even let us stroke him. I could feel his little heart pounding like crazy at first, then later when he calmed down I could feel his heartbeat less. The other two however squawked and struggled the whole time until I put them down. To catch them, I had to corner them and grab them before they could run away, then hold them cradled in my left arm facing me with their heads partly wedged between my arm and side (it helps calm them down if they can’t see anything).

After all the stress and excitement getting the rings off their legs, all five ducks went back to the pond. An hour or two later they seemed to have forgotten everything. I brought them their favourite treats – peas, beans, cabbage, tomatoes. They love these treats and are always so hungry that they will eat eagerly out of my hand and even grab at my fingers with their bills. If they had teeth I would have already lost all my fingers, the little piranhas.

Algae feast!

Algae feast!

They love to eat algae too – we have been dredging huge bunches of string algae from the bottom of the pond for them. It looks simply disgusting but they seem never to get enough of it and will climb into the pond net before I can even empty its contents out.

So the ducks have been helping us clean the pond of algae… which would have been great, if they didn’t eat our expensive ornamental plants as well! The water irises were just starting to bloom, when the ducks thought it would be a nice game to  jump and pull down all the flowers!

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