Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bye-Bye, Birdie!

There comes a time when all good things in life must come to an end. Of course, some of those things wear out their welcome before that time comes.

Since I began raising ducks in 2006, it has been a love-hate relationship all the way. Ducks are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Watching ducklings enjoy their first experiences with water is highly entertaining and seeing them fly for the first time is always remarkable.

However, ducks, though fastidious about their personal hygiene, create an environment that is completely filthy. They are violently territorial and deplorably unintelligent. My ducks have probably brought me as many moments of frustration as of joy.

In past years, we have had very high morbidity with our ducks. Out of the initial four we purchased two years ago, only one survives today. Of the three that were hatched last year, only one survives today. This year has been dramatically different. Our hen (last year's lone remaining hatchling) laid 28 eggs. With our help, she hatched 22 ducklings, 18 of which made it to the age at which they could leave their mother. To go from 2 ducks to 20 was a bit much for us to manage. Our duck pen simply could not accommodate that number of full-size ducks. We chose two to keep, and the rest we tagged and loaded up into the van.

I must say that I do not advocate releasing domesticated animals into the wild. Animals that have imprinted on humans tend to lose too much of their flight response to survive in a predatory environment. However, in the days leading up to the release, my ducks stopped following me, would not come to me for food, and would not really eat the food I put out for them. They stayed in the water and began treating me with great suspicion. It was as if some internal switch had been flipped in them. They were ready to fly the coop. Perhaps there is an optimum window of time for the release of domestically raised wild birds. Just as they would leave their duck parents, they were ready to leave their human ones, too. Even so, I selected a very secure location for them, in a park where the level of human activity keeps predators to a minimum and where there is an existing wild population of ducks with a lack of human shyness.

They took to their new home immediately and within minutes were following a group of older ducks--at a respectful distance, of course.

So, I admit, I was a little sad to see them go. It was the end of a big chapter in my world--my world which is a lot quieter today.


  1. I can see how this would be bittersweet. Although it very well may be good that you got a few lows in there or you might be tempted to keep them all. They have done amazingly well, and I'm sure they are loving their new habitat. Enjoy the newfound quietness.

    And I LOVE the second pic. The tree anchors it so nicely.

  2. Thanks! I wanted to crop the photo to show the ducks better, but I couldn't bring myself to chop the tree out. Anyway, it gives the better impression of how far away from me the ducks were. They didn't look back, either, just ran (swam) for it.

  3. You know, I read somewhere that when children are independent and able to easily leave home to participate in a productive independent life of their own it shows what great parents they have. I am quite sure that goes for baby ducks also. Jen, you make such a great fake mommy duck.congrats on the successful duck rearing... especially such a large group of them!