Spring 2017: Tipsy arrives and causes chaos

Tipsy exploring her old stomping grounds.

Tipsy Returns Home!

We received a nice surprise this morning in the form of Quakie’s sweet-faced and good-natured sister, Tipsy. She was the last to leave us in 2015 and was also the only other sibling of Quakie to return to us in the spring of 2016.

We are really glad to see her again, since this means that of the 5 ducks we raised, we know for sure that at least two (Quakie and Tipsy) have survived to their 3rd year in the wild. We think it’s a phenomenal achievement for them, since they were raised by humans, spent their first 2 months in our protection (aka captivity) and did not benefit from the guidance of their natural mother, who would have taught them much more about independence and survival than any human could. We probably spoiled them too much with free-flow supply of food and treats! Yet they not only survived but thrived and each raised a brood of ducklings last year.

The other 3 of our little duck family, Buerzel, Tippy and Baby, have never been seen again. Apart from Buerzel (who has to go where his mate leads), as sad as it may be to admit it to ourselves, they probably did not even survive their first winter. Of course, they may have decided to settle and breed elsewhere, but seeing how determined Quakie and Tipsy are to breed in the very same garden they grew up in, year after year, is a strong indication that their sisters would have tried to return too, were they alive.

Tipsy and Thierry Cause Chaos

Tipsy’s return, both this and last year, contrary to our human expectations, did not signal a happy family reunion for the ducks the same way it did for us humans.

Tipsy hides during the big showdown between the drakes

The peace that had reigned in our little backyard the last few weeks was abruptly over as the two rival pairs clashed. Or more precisely, the rival drakes.

During the breeding season, males are very territorial and will defend, with bill and claw, their mates’ choice of breeding/feeding location. In spite of numerous attempts to take over this coveted area, Tipsy’s mate (we will refer to him as Thierry II) was repeatedly chased away by Frankie III, who is the resident drake.

Unable to protect herself from Frankie III without her mate’s assistance, Tipsy had to leave, too, each time Thierry II was chased away. I witnessed one particularly  violent fight where one drake (most likely Frankie III) had pinned the other, struggling, to the ground and was biting his neck, seemingly intent on choking him to death. As I approached, both of them flew off to continue their battle in the air, leaving their females behind.

Tipsy took this opportunity to emerge from her hiding place under some bushes to reacquaint herself with our yard and pond. She took a circuitous path around the yard to approach the pond from a safe angle, taking care to look about her constantly and then made her way toward the water. I followed her with my camera. She seemed oblivious to my presence – she knew I wasn’t a threat to her, and was very focused on her next move.

Meanwhile, Quakie, thinking she had the garden to herself at last, was calmly strolling around near the garden shed, but on catching sight of Tipsy approaching, she froze, quickly ducked under a bush and vamoosed under the fence into the neighbour’s garden. I don’t think it was Tipsy she was afraid of, but the possibility that Tipsy’s drake was close behind!

Tipsy swims in pond

Soon Tipsy was swimming in her favourite pond from her duckling-hood. She still did not know that her coveted Duck Tube was already occupied by her sister, who had come back extra early this year to beat her to it.

Taking advantage of Quakie’s temporary absence, I reached into the nest tube to feel around carefully for her eggs with the tips of my fingers. She had buried and covered them very well – I could only feel the smooth surface of one egg among the mass of straw inside, but am sure there were more. Not wanting to disturb the nest further I did not try to uncover or count the eggs.

Soon after, Frankie III returned and he and Quakie resumed their occupation of the pond. Tipsy had to leave, but I am guessing we haven’t seen the last of her yet. She is a very determined duck, as we have learned from past observation.

A Nest Basket For Tipsy

Duck Basket

Last year, we bought a duck nest on the internet. It’s not a home-made straw-and-wire nesting tube like Quakie’s, but a traditional Dutch woven “duck basket” (google “Eendenkorf”) with one closed and one open end, and a landing platform. It didn’t get put up last year, as we didn’t have a proper post for it and Quakie decided to nest in the neighbour’s yard instead when Tipsy had taken the Duck Tube. However this year we were more prepared and acquired a custom-made iron post already in January. Now that Tipsy’s back, maybe the Eendenkorf will finally get to see some use.

Filling the basket with a little straw, we put up the second nest near the first, but stood it in a shallow area of the pond, using our Christmas tree stand as a base support. Some pond rocks to weigh down the stand completed the setup.

We don’t know if it’s crazy to expect two ducks to nest so close to each other especially when their mates are each trying to murder the other. Only time will tell and we are crossing our fingers!

The two nests are very close

While we were still working on securing the nest to the post, Quakie and Frankie had an intense but quiet discussion in the pond, and then both flew off in the direction of the river. At first, we wondered, shocked, if they were abandoning the nest because of the troubles with the other invading duck couple. They had not left the pond or the environs at all for the last 10 days, at least not both together. We didn’t have to worry. Quakie returned a short time later without Frankie, waited till she thought we were not looking – we pretended to hide in the garden shed – glanced around quickly then jumped into her nest (see video below).

She remained in the nest for a pretty long time, and I thought she might have begun to incubate her eggs. There must be around 10 eggs in the nest now, if I am accurate in my assumptions.

Duck Code of Honour

Reflecting on the day’s events, we thought that perhaps Quakie had a change of plans – in order not to risk having to leave the nesting location, she decided not to wait to lay more eggs, but to start sitting on the ones she had already laid, while Frankie waited in a location nearby that both of them had agreed on (thus Quakie’s flight with Frankie towards the river).

Ducks seem to have a code of honour in which a drake may chase a female duck away from his mate’s preferred nesting location, but only if she is not actually sitting on her nest. If Quakie started sitting on her eggs, Thierry could theoretically no longer chase her away, except, of course, if she emerged from the nest to bathe and eat.

This peaceful backyard was the scene of a violent aerial battle between Drake Thierry II and Drake Frankie III this afternoon.

Drakes typically watch over their hens until they start incubating their clutch of eggs, then fly off to wait at a different location so as not to attract attention to the nesting duck, but remain close enough so that in case the hen should require his help to chase away rival pairs or predators, she would be able to find him quickly.

We hope Tipsy will decide to use the Duck Basket nest. It is certainly safer than nesting on the ground where predators and nocturnal egg-raiders have easy access to the clutch. The only worrying issue is whether Tipsy’s drake will try to chase Quakie away while they are here nesting. The girls themselves normally tolerate each other’s presence quite well, and as we observed last year even appear to enjoy each other’s company. But try explaining to a drake that he shouldn’t chase away his sister-in-law! If the ducks themselves can’t communicate that, I don’t have much hope of doing it as a human.

I’m not sure how it will work out this time, but last year when Tipsy was the one nesting and Quakie and Frankie the ones trying to take over the pond, we enforced some time-sharing rules on the ducks and although it made them rather unhappy at the beginning, it all worked out in the end. We hope both the duckies get to be successful mommies again this year!

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