Saturday, November 5, 2016

Daddy's Duckies (Take Two)

Last year (2015), Grayson instigated the great egg experiment. He bought an incubator and procured some Mallard eggs. You can read all about our experience (Daddy's Duckies) with Andy, Joe, Alex and Pedro (changed to Pedra, as she was a girl). The ducks were gone at the end of the season, having flown the coop (literally). 

As Spring rolled around ... once again, Gray got out the incubator and acquired eggs. Like the first year, we'd enjoy "candling" the eggs to check on the development of the babies inside. It was a Sunday when we first saw the signs of hatching. Three of the eggs were rocking and had little holes. We had a family get-together and came home to a duckling!

He would be the only one.

We don't know what happened. Why the two eggs that had started the hatching process weren't able to finish. It happens, but it was really hard to take emotionally. And like last year, we had ONE lonely baby duck.

That first day ... I kept the duckling by my side for much of the day.
If he couldn't have a duck sibling, I would do.
He'd follow me around. I had to watch my step!

Gray contacted the fellow we'd picked up the eggs from and asked if he had a couple newly hatched babies. He had a set of Mallards, black mutations. Five of them (one, the smallest, was brown). 

We introduced the new babies to Uno (which is what we'd named our little guy). While he hadn't liked being alone, he was very unsure about these new additions! It took him a bit to acclimate to them. 

They would spend most of the day in the brooder box. We'd take them outside in the morning and evening for a little fresh air and to let them run around and dig in the dirt. Then we'd fill up the bathtub and let them swim while one of us cleaned the brooder box. Boy can these little guys poop!

As mentioned in my Wild Duckies post ... we'd had a male and female duck hanging around the house for more than a month. Then, it was only the female we'd see around. She'd stop in for a bit once or twice during the day, eating some of the food I'd laid out, and taking a dip in the pool I'd set up for her. A couple of times when she'd stop by, we'd bring out the babies to watch the interaction. While she was always wary of us humans, she was intrigued enough by the babies that she came quite close. Uno was quite intimidated by her though.

Enjoying a little rest in the sun. 
Duckies got your back (literally). 

Then ... Momma duck showed up with THIRTEEN babies in tow! We never saw her nesting, but she must have been close by. Her little ones were SO little. They were a couple weeks behind our ducklings. They seemed so small compared to our big babies. 

As our hatchlings got a little older, we'd keep them outside for longer periods of time. With Momma and her crew hanging out in the backyard too, we'd keep our babies in the pen. Momma did NOT like it if our big babies got too close to her little ones. The big babies thought it was a little unfair though, that Momma and the babies had free range of the entire yard (and beyond) but they were confined.  We would let the big babies out when we could supervise, and then we'd leave them out for longer periods of time, even as we went back into the house. The big babies really tried to stay out of Momma Duck's way. We'd keep a window open, listening for a commotion and rush out to intervene if necessary. While having Momma and her babies around was so fun to observe, it was a bit of a relief when they left, and it was just us and our babies.

 Our babies loved to come nibble on toes and ears and clothing.

... but MEALWORMS were the favorite treat!

Our first year with our ducks, we'd put them back in the pen when we weren't around, and always put them in for the night. With Momma and her babies hanging out the backyard, unpenned ... we wondered if it was really necessary. Once the ducks had grown enough that we didn't feel magpies or a stray cat would be a problem, we let them free range in the entire backyard. (While Momma and babies would duck under the small opening at the fence gate, our babies never wanted to wander, although we did entice them out into the front yard a few times).

In addition to the emotion losing the two eggs in the beginning, we had an issue with Ally. Everything had been fine, then she started limping. It got worse and worse as she lost the ability to walk (she'd "wing walk" attempting to drag herself to the others) and when I'd pick her up and put her in the pool she seemed unable to use her left side, being lopsided in the water. Poor baby!  I took her to a vet (it's hard to find vets that treat ducks) and there was nothing broken or damaged. We had just been using a chicken feed, and were educated on the fact that ducks need niacin. The lack of this nutrient commonly manifests itself in leg problems in ducks. They recommended a feed specifically for waterfowl, and/or to supplement with Brewer's Yeast. I did some research online as well, and while it seemed like a longshot (she was in such bad shape) we started with the supplements and ... she recovered. It was our own little miracle. When she started to wobble across the yard again, it brought tears to our eyes.  She had always been the smallest, and this ordeal had seemed to stunt her growth (while the others got bigger she stayed small) but she soon caught up with her siblings in every way. Even flying across the yard.

Almost every evening ... it was ducky time with Daddy. Gray loved to just sit out there and watch them as they splashed or slept or preened. Of course there were plenty of treats too. Mealworms, goldfish and even some crickets. We'd dig in the garden unearthing worms and snails.

The ducks did start trying out their wings. They flew over the fence into the neighbor's backyard a couple times.

Then one morning ... instead of six duckies, there were only four. I checked the neighbor's yard, but they weren't there. It took a day or so and a couple walks to the canal ... but I found them there! Then two more left, then the final two. Four of them joined up at the canal (Uno, Ally, Jorge and Antonia). I saw Phillipa once, on her own and tried to get her to move upstream to meet up with the others, but she flew off. She could sure fly. We never caught sight of Miguel again.

At this point, I was walking to the canal every day. Usually twice a day. Had to check in on my duckies! I'd still bring them food. The waterfowl feed, cracked corn and other treats like watermelon, lettuce and bananas (Ally loved bananas). Sometimes I'd find them quickly, as they'd stay in about the same spot, other days I'd have to walk well over a mile before I'd find them. Once fun memory, I started walking down the canal and called out "hey ducky duckies" and the four of them came FLYING from further down the canal. 

With their distinctive coloring, I could always tell which ones were "our" ducks among the other wild ones that hung out at the canal. I mean Uno, with the traditional mallard colors was harder to tell apart, but we could because he'd be with the others. Near the end of the season, I didn't see him though. A couple times I'd only find Antonia and Ally (but Jorge did show up again the next day) ... until I didn't find them. Many of the ducks were leaving. The ducky days were over. Until next year.

Here's a little video ...

... and one more little video featuring the favorite food!

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