Princess celebrated motherhood yesterday when her eight babies learnt to fly for the first time on our lawn in Bellbowrie, Queensland (Australia). She is a wild wood duck who grew up in our family home. I have written three stories about her on this blog, see the links below to bring you up to date with her life story.
You could say – after all she has been through, she deserved one happiness, and that she has. She literally grew up inside the house – in my son Nathan’s bedroom – she lived in a crate at night and during the day, we watched her wander around the yard, and making friends with other adult wild ducks and our laying chickens. She would always come back upstairs when it got dark.
I had rescued Princess in 2013 just after Christmas with five other ducklings in our back-yard. During the course of raising the ducklings my sons and I became parents as well as students, learning how we could help the ducklings grow and then release them back into the wild. Goodness knows what was going on in the communication from duck to human language, but soon, the ducklings fell into a pattern of eating, playing, swimming and just following each other and anyone of the three of us, in a line when we walked around the property. When we decided to name the ducklings, she stood out because she was the smallest and had a nervous twitch – everything had to be done for her. She would just wait to be served.
Princess’ four siblings died in the process of growing – the vet said, it could be anything – the stress, cold, fright, and drowning. There were two ducklings left. Princess and her sister. They continued to live with us inside the house in one of the spare bathrooms at night and much to the disgust of our visiting friends and family who sometimes accidentally stepped on duck poop. As they got older and stronger, we let the two sisters swim in a small water tank which was deeper than the bath. Later they took to our swimming pool and we could see them really enjoying themselves. When they became taller and their wings got bigger we knew they were ready to fly; my son trained them to fly off our balcony into the pool (15 metres away) and also fly onto the lawn from the two story house.
With her nervous twitch, we noticed, her big sister became protective of Princess any time she found things difficult. She would nuzzled Princess and peck her gently to settle her. I became very attached to the confident big sister. She was a very smart and a caring big sister, She always tried new things and places before involving Princess. The two ducks bonded closely and were almost ready to be trained back into the wild together. Early one evening while we were having dinner with the two ducks tucked into their large box on our verandah, a python came up, unexpectedly, slipped into the box and coiled around one duck – the confident sister.
From that day onwards, Princess remained in the house with us, less confident to fly and became very attached. A few weeks later she started to regain her confidence. Then she tried to fly so Nathan took her to the window and she flew into the pool – about 30 metres away. She was natural. Swimming, diving and fluttering her wings. She loved it and started there all day – we had to bring her food to her, like a true Princess. She also flew a complete circle around our neighbours yard and took a swim in their brand new swimming pool. I jokingly told Princess, it was okay as long as she did not poop in their pool or get caught.
Then, one day a bunch of young male ducks that were hanging around our pool flew off and we saw her go. We followed her through a few neighbour’s property and decided, she was ready to go.
She returned to our property regularly and pretended she did not know us when we called her name. Sometimes, her twitch would become obvious – perhaps from worrying, we were trying to get her back. Amongst other wild ducks, when her name was called, Princess would be the only duck turning to look at us. It was funny. She had many suitors who often fought over her in the front lawn and the pool.
It was only a short time before Princess established herself with a pack of wild ducks that frequented our yard. Then Princess fell in love. Earlier this year, I posted a story about Princess and her first ducklings.
On their first day, she brought her babies out for a walk and played in our yard and then a swim in the pool. Within a few days, she decided to leave our property and cross the main road into a vacant block which led into the wild, a creek and then Brisbane River. I followed them to the edge of the bush concerned she had made a grave decision. There was a big storm, the next day. The mother, partner and babies – did not show up for two days.
Click here to read Nothing Came with the Rain story
Seven weeks ago, my son Nathan was very excited about new ducklings in our yard. Ducks don’t always have babies in winter so we were surprised. We rushed out and counted eight baby ducks. Sure enough, someone had been busy, it was Princess and her partner with their ducklings. She had also lost the nervous twitch. The ducklings were not newborn. They were at least two-three weeks old. She had hid her babies until they grew up. It was clearly a clever plan by Princess. We could not work out where they were before they came home.
Attentive and followed by her partner and their babies, Princess headed for the chicken’s feed. Even the chickens let the ducks eat. We were all overjoyed.
I decided to buy some duck food from our local produce store. I did not post a story about the new arrivals earlier, just to let Princess have the quiet life she wanted and raise her eight daughters. Our family tried to keep our distance and no paparazzi were allowed. It has been almost five weeks since they arrived and adding the first few weeks in hiding, they have grown rapidly and are now ready to fly. Usually the babies grow their strong feathers by six weeks and fly at eight weeks.
The mother got them started in the pool – flapping wings and lifting off – then falling on the water. The training also takes place in the water and on our lawn – just as we tried to teach her. It is quite funny and heart-warming to watch. Ten days ago, wild foxes got into our chicken coop and took Lady Stella. (That’s another story). After the midnight drama and the shock of losing the toughest hen – we raced about our property trying to find Princess and her family. We discovered, after all this time, she had cleverly nested her family in the thick layers of my flowers just on the water’s edge in our fenced swimming pool where no large animal can get in. She family planned well in the sense that being winter, even the snakes would be hibernating. So…they are safe for now and it is only days before the new girls will fly. Then, they will all be in the wild together.
I feel that Princess has truly achieved motherhood and as her mother, I am very proud of her.