Judging from my duck, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have any kids. Apparently, I messed him up. Oh, he’s okay physically. It’s his emotional state I’ve been worried about. He still doesn’t comprehend he’s a duck.
Tyler is the duckling my wife and I adopted recently and was the subject of my last column. I told of his trials of being an only duck and how he imprinted on virtually every human he encountered, before he seemed to find satisfaction with a family of bantam chickens.
Shortly after that column was published, it became evident the pen he shared with his chicken friends was inadequate in size to deal with the daily manure output of a duck. Although they all got along well, and Tyler especially enjoyed romping with them, it was time for him to become a real duck.
I have had ducks most of my life and they do great outdoors, winter or summer. Our ducks have always been essentially free-roaming as they are difficult to contain, easily slipping through our sheep panels and gates. That being the case, though, they don’t stray far from home. Except for a mother duck and her six babies, who we had years ago, they do minimal damage to our yard. She and her little demons did, however, leaving scattered mulch and my wife’s broken flowers in their wake. They soon found a nice, new home with a pond.
All the other ducks we have known have been much more mannerly, preferring to live and exist with the sheep. Nearly every time the sheep are out on pasture, the ducks will be nearby. In fact, the two ducks we had before getting Tyler have been quite adept at using this trick to avoid predation. Evidently, staying close to the sheep makes them less likely to be targeted by a hawk or fox.
As for special care, our ducks eat spilled sheep feed, occasionally some corn I’ll toss their way, and all the bugs and worms they can find around the manure pile. Although we don’t have a pond, the ducks do enjoy various puddles and low-lying areas that retain water after ample rains. They are also capable of climbing into the water troughs for a swim, much to the dismay of the sheep. In actuality, it’s a win-win for both. The ducks get a bath, and the sheep get fresh, clean water. The same husbandry practices hold true for our geese — we have a gaggle of seven.
The ducks and geese, while they live side by side, have minimal social interaction. Once, a male duck did show romantic intent toward a female goose, but that affair was quickly ended by her other goose suitors. Since then, both species, for the most part, mind their own business.
Thus, I was more than a little surprised by the almost weird fascination the geese had with Tyler the first time they saw him. I took the young lad on a stroll to the barnyard to hopefully introduce him to the other ducks, when suddenly we were besieged by seven wing-flapping “honkers” way too close for comfort. Tyler stayed right behind me as we quickly “beat feet” back to the garage. They did this on two other occasions, I guess before they concluded he was only a duck and worthy to be ignored.
So did Tyler ever become a member of the duck flock? In spite of an afternoon spent with the other two ducks in a small lambing pen, no bonding took place. There appeared to be no animosity between them, but no friendship developed either. As soon as I let them loose into the larger sheep pen, they went their separate ways.
Nonetheless, I don’t want you to think Tyler is a lonely, miserable duck, because he’s not. He hangs out with the sheep when they’re in the barn, and when they go to pasture with the other ducks, he stays behind with several new free-ranging chicken friends.
And just the other day, I witnessed Tyler actively engaged in conversation with a rooster resting above him on a gate, with his head held high talking “quack.” That was the moment I finally felt some peace regarding his unique situation. I realized Tyler’s identity issue wasn’t his problem, it was mine. He knows who he is. He simply isn’t a duck.
Dr. John H. Jones practices at Delphos Animal Hospital.