Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ducks Are Like Elephants....Sort Of

About a twelve weeks ago or so, we had several families of ducks in a pond that is "L" shaped around our house.  First there were 13 but in just a matter of days this was down to just one and its mother.  We figured the mother to be a young duck because she didn't stick around for very long.  My guess is that by the time this little one was 4 to 6 weeks old the mother was gone.  All the little thing did was swim around the pond calling for its mother by going peep peep peep.  Hence, we called it Peep.  We worried about it on stormy nights and whether it knew to stay near or in the water for protection from critters on land.  It would follow large ducks around during the day but at night, it was anybodies guess.

I would guess that at about eight weeks of life for this little guy another mother of 13 ducklings showed up.  This mother was definitely older.  She stood vigil over the babies all the time.  However, she too lost a few over time.  She got down to 7 and stabilized.  She would not let Peep join in her group.  Peep had to swim with the larger ducks or pay the price of having some feathers plucked out.

About another 2 or 3 weeks went buy and another mother duck showed up with only three little ones.  There were 2 that were darker and larger and one that was lighter in color and smaller.  You cannot tell the sex of ducks at this age.  This mother was also a good mother in that she stayed with her young, watching their every move and teaching them things. 

Did you know that ducks dive?  They do this in a playful manner as well as a way to wash their feathers.  They do the bottoms up eating thing where they literally go head down, butt up, all while there feet are paddling so that they can eat whatever is just below the surface.  Well, this is something the mother teaches her young.  We saw most of the seven diving one afternoon but two were not so the mother swam next to them and pecked at their backs.  One dove without hesitation but the last one was stubborn.  I guess it didn't want to get water in its ears or up its nose.  The mother was more force full, she won, they were all diving.

Sometime just before the 4th of July we noticed one of the adult females was injured.  It was the mother of the three.  I had started feeding them cracked corn, you shouldn't feed ducks bread, and they got to where they would get quit close to me.  There is something about territorial boundaries in duck-land.  If I was feeding the three, somehow the seven knew it and would come a running.  Their mother would then chase the three off and any other duck that got too close, males included.  Well, all but one male, he must have been dad.  This created a problem with the injured duck because she too would be ran off and she wasn't strong enough to get away quickly.  Her injuries turned out to be really bad.  She had lost the use of her left leg and wing.  Part of the wing had been torn off, the long flying feathers and there was a gash under the wing where something got hold of her.  I would end up protecting and feeding her myself.  It got to the point that I would put food out and when it was gone she would quack at me for more.  She ate out of my had and her little ones would do the same as well as climb into my lap. 

Two weeks ago a duck showed up out beside the house and it looked really bad.  I thought it was the injured duck  and she had taken a turn for the worse.  I took a close look and it was the same leg and wing.  The wound was open (again I thought) and it had maggots on it.  I finally realized it was one of the three and was one of the larger ones.  I watched it for a couple of days, personally feeding it and trying to get water to it.  I saw it moving around in a field, looked just like its mother, hopping to get places.  Then, weekend before last we were working out back near the pond and we noticed it wasn't moving.  I went to check it out and it was very weak.  All of a sudden, it jumped and turned facing the water.  It layed there for about a half an hour and then went in.  I don't know if this was a suicide on the ducks part or that it thought it could get in.  We didn't see it get in but when we noticed it, the poor thing was on its back trying to right itself.  It would loose effort and its head would go under water and then pop back up for air.  During this time, the other ducks stood on the bank of the pond and watched.  They made no sound.  When the duck finally drowned, the mother with now 6 babies started quacking.  She moved all little ducks off the bank and up towards our yard.  Only the mother of the drowned duck, a mother of two new (4 wks old) babies and she stayed in the water.  They just stood there watching.  The wind blew the little thing towards the east end north side of the pond.  I would guess 20 minutes went by before there was any action on the part of the ducks.

Just three or four days earlier one of the 7 babies made a big mistake and didn't get out of the road fast enough.  It was hit and died instantly.  Again, all the ducks came and stood by the road as if to say their good byes.  They couldn't see it happen as the pond is 15 feet below the road.  There is no sound to be heard and yet more than 12 ducks stood in observance.

The drowned duck finally floated to the other end due to a large rain that raise the pond level to where it was beached near the house.  After a couple of days I went down and buried it.  It the time span of being beached and a couple of days after the burial, the mother and the siblings would lay near the deceased duck.

This is why I say, Ducks Are Like Elephants...Sort Of.  They don't move the dead like elephants do but they surely seem to recognize that there was a death.  One of their own and even if it was from another family.

The pictures will be self explanatory I hope.