In our community garden we have 4 hens. We used to have a rooster - but that is another story. In our home garden we have 4 ducks and one Indian Runner drake. I've kept ducks for a number of years. We had them at our old house, in our backyard.Then when we moved here, I'm sure my husband was thinking - good, no ducks, we can have chickens down the garden, but no ducks at the house. And so it was for a long time, yet somehow, in our quest for chickens, and restocking chickens, after our lame attempts at protecting them from foxy loxy, we stumbled across a source of ducks. A kind lady who supplied Canberra with incubators to school classrooms so that children could watch the chicken hatching process, had a supply of ducks she was interested in passing on. To US! as it turned out - what a coincidence. Well, actually, we were at her house buying 2 chicks and I said "you don't happen to have ducks do you?". About a month later she rang up and said she wanted to sell her entire flock of 4 ducks and she thought of me. Fancy that. My poor husband.
I like to watch them swim and waddle around and I find they are far more curious than chickens. They seem to be more complex in their behaviour. I know we aren't talking very complex - they are ducks after all. Yet they seem more distinctive as individuals, than chickens do to me. Perhaps there is nothing in it in the grand, evolutionary scheme of things - ducks, chickens - pretty similar but I have always enjoyed the ducks more. To me, their behaviour is more eccentric and individual, some are louder than others, some are better mothers - that kind of thing. I am alone in my family with this love of ducks. My children were mildly curious at first, but years on of duck husbandry (feeding, water, cleaning, collecting their thousands of eggs, being made to eat eggs every day) they are very over the ducks.
After the flock of 4 joined us, my very kind husband dug out a hole in the garden to sink an old bathtub, then joined up some pipes so we can empty the bath and use the water for garden (duck poo water - got to be good for them plants!). His one condition was, no drake! We aren't raising flocks of ducks like we did at the old house. So, in that first year when the ducks began nesting and their eggs weren't fertile, I pleaded with Tim - couldn't we just ask Garry if we could borrow his drake to fertilise a few eggs for the girls. The soft hearted fellow caved in and Garry actually gave us his drake, first as a loan but then he didn't want him back. That first summer, one the white ducks (we had two white, one brown, one whitish/brown ducks) hatched out a flock of 7 ducklings. We were so excited and it was so much fun. Everyone loved them. All the friends and kids came over to see the ducklings. We gave two to Garry (who kept his ducks down the garden), we sold 4 to a man from my work who asked "how much do they weigh?". Guess what he had in mind. And we kept one for ourselves.
The next season, Spring 2006, the one who was born the year before (we don't actually name our ducks) made the nest and all the ladies laid their eggs in her nest. Unfortunately, she was incompetant and we had such a long and dreary spring/summer. She started early in the spring with a nest up under the tree on the back fence. We marked the dates on the calendar and showed the nest to all our friends and neighbours who came over for a play. "There will be ducklings there in about 3 weeks". But no. None of them hatched. Then she tried again. New nest, new place. Again weeks went buy, she kept sitting but no ducklings. Christmas came and went. The deep, hot summer ramped up and it was awful watching her sitting in some exposed site she chose for the third nest. We built a little structure over her to try and shade her. But all to no avail. All the eggs were rotten under her. We were quite sick of the process by this stage.
Around the time she was half way through the third sitting, one of the old ladies from the original group obviously decided this wasn't good enough and so she built a nest. By this stage, probably about 18 months after we got the original 4 ducks, we had lost two - one to illness and one to the neighbours' dog who rushed in through an open gate and killed a duck right in front of us - bit traumatic for the kids and lots of tears that day! When this old lady duck started we kind of didn't keep track of this mum and I wasn't even sure when she started nesting. Sure enough though, one afternoon we were in the backgarden and up she walks from the bottom of the garden with a little yellow bundle of fluff, and another bundle of brown fluff. Oh we were happy then! Two baby ducklings. See there was nothing wrong with the drake after all! Because we did wonder. Why couldn't that other duck hatch out a nest? My sister, who is a bird scientist suggests that she doesn't set the incubation off correctly. She clearly sits the distance, the whole 28 days (and longer as the eggs don't hatch) but she probably doesn't sit earnestly enough in the initial few days when she needs to set the trigger that tells the embryos to start developing. There must be a time, while the duck makes the nest and lays eggs into the nest where the embryos are dormant. Then when she begins to sit in earnest, the incubation starts and the embryos develop. There's obviously some skill involved.
Anyway, that brings us to Spring 2007 - year three of our duck experiment. And guess what, the white duck who had been hatched out the spring 2005, and the white duck and the brown duck who had been hatched out spring 2006 all built nests this year. This in itself seemed unusual to us because in our previous experience, one of the ladies built the nest and sat on it, while the other ducks left her to it. But no, this year all three young ducks decided to be mums. One built a nest in the children's cubby house and put about 300 eggs in it - seriously there would have been around 20! How was she going to manage to keep them all warm? Another duck built a nest where the old lady duck had been successful the previous summer, and the final duck laid a nest in one of my husband's corner of the garden where he stores old bits of wood and rubbish. Choice.
I didn't get a photo of the nest in the cubby house because it was too dark and sitting ducks get very distressed if you get too close while they are sitting.
And sure enough, mummy duck from the previous year (these two above are probably her babies) must have though "those girls will never get it right" so this spring we had all four ducks sitting on nests.
Although I trust mummy duck above to do the right thing, I wasn't 100% happy with her choice of site. Her nest is in the duck pen (hence she is sitting behind chicken wire), however, it is right next to the gate to our pool. So now that the weather is really warm we're always wanting to walk right next to her. I just wedge the gate open and warn the children to walk through quietly. She mainly holds her ground as we go past. If we are a bit boisterous she will occasionally get flustered and hop off the eggs. I do try hard to make sure that doesn't happen because if anyone's got a chance to hatch out the eggs it's going to be this one. And true to form, I've been watching the behaviour of the other lady ducks and while they do sit on their nests, they get off for much more extended times than she does. All the ducks will get up for a bit of water and some food but mummy duck seems to make it a much briefer pit stop than the other ladies who get up, wander around, make a racket, barking and honking, drink the water, wash themselves, eat some grass, eat some grain, have a chat - then wander back to the nest. They all do go to some effort to cover their nests with leaves and feathers while they take their break. And I saw the cutest thing. The poor old drake has been a bit lonely with all his girls off nesting. He takes it in turn to sit next to one of the nesting ducks but spends most of his time up in the duck pen with this one. One day mummy duck got up to drink some water and the drake went over to the nest and covered the eggs with feathers and leaves. It was so cute. Like he was doing his bit to help old mummy duck out because clearly she'd forgotten to cover over the babies before she took her rest.
Stay tuned to see how many ducklings we get. My bet is that this duck above is the only one to hatch out her nest.
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