Ducklings Week 7: Flight training and foraging

Buerzel at 6 1/2 weeks old.

Buerzel at 6 1/2 weeks old.

The ducks are almost 7 weeks old and their flight feathers seem quite fully formed, but are not quite ready to fly yet. They however seem to feel the need to stretch those pectoral muscles in preparation for flying, and one or more of them (mainly the girls) will occasionally break into this funny dance, jumping on the spot while beating their wings vigorously for up to a minute or more. It is quite comical to see them bouncing on the tips of their toes and stretching their necks as straight up as they can. It makes their usually plump-looking bodies look suddenly very svelte.

I stupidly tried demonstrating to them what they should do to start flying by running back and forth over the lawn flapping my arms, but it didn’t really help much, except to make me look foolish. The ducks responded by wandering vaguely in my direction and looking at me quizzically. Today, I finally managed to get them all excited and running across the lawn towards me, flapping their wings, by rattling a box of frozen peas at them, but they quickly tired of this.  I suppose that it is very strenuous, kind of like trying to swim the butterfly stroke without powerful shoulder muscles.

Baby is still limping – it has only been less than 2 weeks since her injury, but she is already keeping up with the rest and is frequently near the front of the group. Watching her is at the same time hilarious and moving.

The last few days, I’ve been accompanying the ducks on their foraging trips outside of our yard. They enjoy sifting through leaf litter under trees and under ground cover for snails, worms or other invertebrates to chomp on. This activity is not as much fun for me since I don’t find those creatures delicious, also I have to crawl around in cramped spaces to stay near them. However they appeared pleased to have me nearby, as they were more confident to explore further and spend more time foraging than normal before returning to the pond – sometimes up to an hour!

Foraging on the little hill.

Quakie leads her siblings on a foraging trip.

When I am with them, they don’t regard me as a mother duck or leader – more like a volunteer bodyguard. Quakie is still the one in charge,  she leads the group out and back, and the rest follow her most of the time. I never hear her issue any audible commands, but they always seem to stop what they are doing simultaneously and like clockwork, assemble themselves into a line and march after Quakie. They obviously communicate a lot through body language and posture, so every one needs to be very observant and attentive.

If any duck is inattentive and gets left behind, and doesn’t appear during roll-call at the pond, Quakie goes nuts and starts quacking like a furious Donald Duck! I’m usually the last to arrive since I take the long way back to our garden not being able to simply crawl under the hedge like the ducks. Today, when Quakie noticed I was still missing, she quacked really loudly till I reported to her.  I guess I feel honoured to be counted as family. Yes, ducks definitely can count as well as humans when it comes to family members!

Nice cool resting spot under the tree!

Baby’s nice cool resting spot under the tree!

H. says I shouldn’t get too attached to the ducks, otherwise I’d feel terrible if something happened to one of them. Once they learn to fly, and return to the wild, we will no longer be able to protect them constantly. Away from the safety of our yard and pond, they will be exposed to predators, traffic, human hunters and other dangers. Since we raised them, I feel  responsible for them –  they have grown up always looking to us for food and protection. As with many other animal species, even when they have grown to adult size they will remain inexperienced youngsters for quite a while – I can’t help worrying how they will adapt out in the wild without the guidance of a more experienced adult duck.

Tippy has found a new favourite spot to rest.

Tippy has found a new favourite spot to rest.

Of course, there is the possibility of our confining the ducks to man-made structures made to keep out predators, clipping their wings so they can’t fly,  turning them into pampered house pets – but this is no life for ducks with strong wild instincts, who would rather be free and face whatever comes outdoors at night, than sleep in a dry and warm environment indoors where they are prisoners and wholly dependent on us!

Ideally they will continue to live with or near us until they are confident of survival in the wild. They will always have a safe place to come back to and food to eat, and if they choose to stay with us eventually, we are fine with that too.

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