It is often advised that one shouldn’t feed wild ducks or other wild waterfowl since that leads to overpopulation and aggression. We follow this general rule however we never say no to two very special ducks, our Quakie and Tipsy, who were raised here from the time they were ducklings, migrated in winter and returned in spring both in 2016 and 2017. Two ducks don’t sound like very many, yet, our garden and pond is already too small for both of them and their mates, and fights between the males occurs daily, sometimes several times a day.
Quakie was the first to return in February and claimed the Duck Tube nest for herself. Tipsy was a little late to return, and was chased away repeatedly by Frankie, Quakie’s drake, who was aggressively defending his mate’s food source. It is difficult to explain to a duck that there will be enough cracked corn for everybody if only they would share. To them it’s a limited commodity- only available a few times a day when a human came out to fill the food tray. A compromise was made – a second feeding area was established far apart from the first, so Tipsy could access the food unmolested. Sometimes this helped and sometimes it didn’t. Ducks can see and hear extremely well and Frankie caught on very fast.
During the breeding season, a mallard hen in the wild is constantly at the mercy of testosterone-fuelled, unattached drakes looking to have a good time. Tipsy had a bonded drake to protect her, but sometimes there is only so much a single drake can do to ward off a whole gang. Just a few days ago we witnessed a lone female chased by up to 4 drakes, and attacked in the pasture across the lane from our home. The drakes pinned the poor duck to the ground and were having their way with her. We were too far away to do much to help, and couldn’t help wondering if the poor victim were Tipsy.
One day, a pair of drakes chased a mallard hen all the way into our pond. We thought they were attacking Quakie, and shooed them away. The female they were after took off from the water with Frankie and the other drakes in hot pursuit. A few minutes later, we realised Quakie was still in the pond – hiding under the overhang of the deck. She had flattened her whole body down to the level of the water keeping absolutely still, and went unnoticed by the attacking drakes. The female they had chased was probably Tipsy, who had sought refuge at our pond but was unable to escape the aggressive drakes even there.
Things changed when Quakie began sitting on her eggs to incubate them. Frankie was absent for days at a time, and Tipsy spent several days at our pond undisturbed, hiding among the reeds or under the deck. She came out of the water to eat only when we were around, and acted a little strange, as if frightened of something (though not us). Tipsy’s partner (we will call him Eddie) appeared now and again to hang out with her, but didn’t stay long. He flew away if he saw us. Tipsy however behaved like she always did – running to us, clucking and whistling softly, when we brought food to her.
Another aspect of Tipsy’s unusual behaviour soon manifested. When Quakie took a break from her nesting duties to eat and bathe, Tipsy would shadow her closely; swimming behind her in the pond, following her actions whether they were bathing, preening or foraging, and even jumping out of the pond after her when she went to the food tray and trying to eat at the same time.
Was she trying to intimidate Quakie, or was there some other reason? Perhaps she was afraid of being alone, getting spotted by roving drakes? Was she pretending to be part of a duck couple? Surely drakes won’t be fooled by two female ducks!
We started nicknaming Tipsy “creepy duck” because of the way she kept tailing and creeping up on Quakie! We could see that Quakie didn’t like it – she started quacking her disapproval loudly. Neither duck showed aggression to the other, however. I believe Quakie was trying to attract the attention of her drake, Frankie, so he would come show Tipsy the door. A nesting duck cannot be so careless as to waste precious energy chasing intruders out – they already have their own personal bouncer. Unfortunately for Quakie, she wasn’t able to contact him despite repeated calls, a fact that later led to aggressive hen-pecking and scolding when he finally did appear.
For a couple of days, Quakie was very stressed out during her meal and bath breaks due to her sister’s strange behaviour. She puffed up her feathers quacked loudly, jumped in and out of the pond to preen and bathe over and over again, in an effort to dispel her nervousness. Frankie was still nowhere in sight.
The situation worsened when Eddie turned up to hang out with Tipsy and started staying for longer periods. We noticed that although Eddie kept his distance from Quakie and showed no aggression, she was terribly upset to see him. Many mornings, we had to rush outside to appease Quakie who, having just left her nest, stood on the little slope behind the pond, quacking her head off while somehow managing to preen herself at the same time. We stood between her and the other two so she would feel less threatened and could continue eating and bathing. At the same time it was clear to us that Tipsy wasn’t giving up her claim to be there so easily. Any attempt to chase Eddie just made him swim to the other side of the pond – he knew we couldn’t reach him if he stayed in the water! He wouldn’t leave the pond, if his Tipsy wanted to stay. Sometimes the two of them would slowly approach Quakie together and send her into another fit of quacking.
We had hoped not to have to play Duck Referee the way we had last year with Frankie I and Thierry, but it’s happening all over again! Thank goodness we have only two duck couples to deal with, not four!
Baby and Tippy, Quakie’s other sisters, most likely did not survive their first year; we never saw them again after they left us to go on their first winter migration. If they had also returned to nest, there would be a Duck Armageddon in our yard.