Ducklings Week 8: Duck Personalities

Time since hatch day: 7 weeks and 2 days

The ducks are growing bigger and hungrier every day. Our supply of vegetables is depleted very quickly these days. Just between yesterday and today, they ate at least a whole pound of frozen peas. They demand this from me several times a day, though I already offer them savoy cabbage, tomatoes, green beans and lettuce as treats in addition to their grain mix (scratch feed) and any other edibles they find while foraging.

Thanks to my having shown them how to ask for peas, they now “order” it whenever they want, pecking at my feet, or drilling their bills into my palms impatiently when I hold out other kinds of food (but not eating it), as if to say, “not this, I want the peas!!”

They still come to our patio door every morning to wait for me – sitting in the shade of the patio furniture if the morning sun gets too hot, or under the nearby peony bush. This morning, when I opened the door they all trudged into the house, waited in the living room while I got green peas from the freezer in the kitchen, and then walked back with me across the lawn to the pond, where they received their treats.

Probably why they are always so hungry is that they expend a lot of energy growing. Green peas, their favourite, are rich in protein and that is important for growing new feathers.

Preliminary training for flying has also begun. Today, one of the ducks started running, then took off and flew several feet, landing in the pond. The others managed to climb up onto the rock wall behind the pond, and then jumped down into the water while flapping their wings.

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Buerzel looking handsome

When they are in the garden, they sometimes stand straight up on their tip toes, and flap their wings very vigorously for several minutes, bouncing up and down, necks stretched straight up and looking very svelte, compared to their usual squat, waddly selves. One of them almost took off while doing this today, but none of them have actually flown more than a few inches off the ground for more than a few feet.

They are also getting adventurous with food – or at least, one of them is. Yesterday, Quakie caught a frog in the pond and had its back leg firmly clamped in her bill. The other four ducks surrounded her in great excitement, very curious but at the same time afraid of it. If the struggling frog touched any of them, they squawked real loud and jumped back. It was hilarious to watch. Only one of the others tried to bite it, but after a while they all gave up and let the frog go. Besides small invertebrates like snails and worms, ducks are also known to eat frogs but this one was far to large for Quakie to swallow! She is after all a wild mallard, not a domestic duck, which can be up to 4 times larger.

Now the ducks are older, their individual characteristics and personalities are becoming more noticeable. It’s very interesting to observe their interactions and their group dynamics. We often discuss our observations of the ducks – who is the most adventurous, the most industrious, or who did what to whom that day, who likes to hang out with whom. The siblings mostly get along well, but they still like to squabble over things like favourite sleeping spots, and the more aggressive ones assert themselves especially at feeding times. You would notice the timid ones hanging off at the side waiting for their turn to eat. Whoever doesn’t respect the pecking order gets a vicious jab in their behind.

Baby, the smallest, gets picked on frequently by Quakie, who is the take-charge type, she likes to tell the others what to do, although they often ignore her anyway!

Quakie checks out a bush

Quakie checks out a bush

Buerzel (a.k.a. Zorro) is the biggest duck and only drake. He is quiet, straightforward, uncomplicated. He takes the least time preening and bathing, never seems to fuss or squabble and usually lets his sisters have their way even though he is bigger than them.

Baby is the nervous, eager type – she has always been a bit slower than the rest and has spent much of her young life trying to keep up, a situation worsened by her multiple leg injuries in her 4th and 5th week. When her more aggressive siblings are nearby, she tends to walk around in a nervous, furtive manner, with her head hunched down to her shoulders instead of confidently held high like the others. She is has unique features (dark head and long eye stripe) and body language, and is easy to pick out from the rest.

The twins (which I so named, since we still can’t tell them apart!) are not aggressive to Baby, but one of them likes to fight with Quakie for dominance during feeding time.

Quakie and the twins, seem to get along well and hang out together. Baby seems to prefer following her brother Mr. Buerzel around, but Mr. B sometimes likes to go off exploring with sister Quakie without checking with the others.

Today we had a little adventure involving the next door neighbour’s terrier. It somehow found its way into our garden and came at the ducks. It was a mystery how she got in, since I had secured stiff wire mesh over the bars of the garden gate and fence. This was meant to prevent our ducks from getting into the front yard and running out into the road. I walked briskly towards the dog, shooing her, and she ran around panicked for a while, then disappeared under the bushes along the fence. We saw her later in the neighbours’ garden – she may have found some space to squeeze through the fence somewhere where we could not see.

Sleeping in the pond

Sleeping in the pond

The ducks did not seem afraid – they waddled after me as I searched for the dog. They stuck their heads into the bushes to see where it was hiding, and being shocked at their reckless behaviour, I chased them back into the pond for their own safety. Quakie didn’t like this at all, and showed me her wide open bill (like a sideways ‘V’) in protest at this indignity. It’s hard for me to explain to them that while I can chase the dog, they certainly aren’t in the position to!

The ducks were a little nervous the rest of the day, and walked around peering under bushes when they were not in the pond. They usually sleep in the bushes near the pond, but this afternoon, they slept in the pond itself, the first time I have seen them do that. Each tucked their head under a wing and simply floated on the water sleeping. When the wind blew, they would drift from one side of the pond to the other, as if they were duck decoys! One enterprising duck slept on top of the pond skimmer (which is currently not in use) as if it were an island, so she didn’t drift off.

The ducks are getting bored with our yard and have communicated that to me in no uncertain terms with their body language.  However I am still worried about attacks from the neighbourhood dogs and cats. I am going to wait until they can fly before we go on more exploratory trips around the neighbourhood!

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