Tag Archives: Australian wood ducks

The Goddess Who Loves Grasshoppers


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JK.Leahy© picture

Life has not been dull since Penelope was born. Penelope is a goddess, because she deserves to be treated like one and she is named after a real goddess. Penelope eats grasshoppers like she has been starving for days. Because she is little, she often does not move quick enough to catch all the grasshoppers she finds. She does catch a few; I like to help with the small fish tank scoop. This duckling was almost three weeks old in this picture.

We think this Penelope may be the grand baby of our pet duck Princess. She was admiring her new bed made of a broken ceramic pot with leaves form the South African cherry bush in our backyard in the above picture. It has been two weeks since I started her story and now, she is too tall for the pot and has been given a new bed of coconut husk fibres in another pot.  Although she likes the coconut fibres, Penelope prefers to be covered when sleeping with a very soft pink cotton scarf (see in picture below).

I thought Penelope (meaning ‘duck’) after Penelope of the Greek mythology, the daughter of Prince Icarius of Sparta and the nymph Periboea seemed an appropriate name for this duckling because she is one tough duck. The story of the Greek Penelope was that she waited for 20 years for Odysseus to return from war. When she was born her father, who had wanted a son, found out her mother had her and threw her into the river where ducks eventually rescued and raised her. The truth is, the duckling could be a male and we don’t know yet. If ‘she’ turns out to be a male duckling, that would be funny. We might have to name her after Penelope’s love, Odysseus, to play along with the theme.

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Sitting in her favourite bedding – a pick scarf.

Our little goddess Penelope lost her five siblings and parents late one night when she was left alone in the pool. I alerted my son Nathan when I heard her crying. It was cold and dark and she was nothing but uncooperative. She eluded us for close to half an hour, swimming and diving in the icy, pitch black water. At that time we guessed she was only a week old.

She would only pop out of the water for seconds and barely give enough time to spot her before vanishing again, bubbles and ripples of water indicating where she was popping up next. Penelope was obviously terrified, but very clever in escaping. After Nathan and I eventually decided to split our rescue efforts I scooped her out of the water by blocking her escape on the pool steps with cardboard. Really – we just got lucky.

In its first week in our care, Penelope was brave and quiet. She did not cry loudly like previous ducklings, including Princess that we had cared for. Her mother showed up a few times and it became very emotional but she took to the routine of feeds, baths and walks and then music on the radio and bedtime. She loved cuddles and enjoyed crawling into fresh washing and soft clothing to have a sleep.

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While bathing one Saturday morning, Penelope became quiet. Not hearing splashes, I went out to check her and found her floating with her white belly up – like a balloon. Distraught with guilt and panic, I pulled her tiny body out of the water and yelled at my sons while I panicked. How was I meant to give first aid to a tiny duckling? I did not know how to give first aid to a human, I had seen it done. I called Nathan – hoping he learnt something about saving animals at university. Nathan was intending on becoming a doctor – so my hopes for Penelope was pinned on him.

“Mum…really?” was all Nathan said, distress and frustration wrinkling his features.

I began to cry and laid Penelope’s body on the warm concrete in the open sun and pressing on her as Nathan suggested while I cried. I opened her little beak and could not fit my pinky down her throat which was so tiny. Nathan tried to dry her and kept telling me she was still breathing. All I could see was a round swollen white furry ball with four black sticks sticking to it, that was poor Penelope’s little body.

Drowning was not something you expect of a duck, but she is still a baby. Baby ducklings also lose their body heat very easily. I have seen a few duckling down in the past.

Her beak parted and moved and then opened, and her heart still pumped. It was a good half hour before she moved and an hour before she opened her eyes. Her milky second eyelids had stretched over her eyes for a long while. Three hours later from her warm towel, she made a sound that was not a duckling sound, but rather a recording played by a cheap, submerged speaker. By the end of the day, her feathers dried out and she finally stood on her feet. It was a very happy moment for our family. She did not eat or drink until nightfall and she drank some water. The next day, she woke up, after hours of sleep and was fighting fit.

She became ill with fever soon after and stayed in bed for the rest of the day. That same afternoon, she gained some strength and wanted to walk so I took her outside, into the backyard. To my surprise, she tried to catch the grasshoppers, so I helped. We caught and (she) ate seven grasshoppers. Some she could not swallow; they were even larger than her beak, but she ate them all.

Penelope also loves lettuce and dandelion seeds with the duck mesh. Since she nearly drowned, she refuses to dive into the water and only splashes water on her back when she bathes. After each wash, she looks at you for a towel dry before grooming herself.

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Hopping on one foot.

A week ago, she managed to twist her leg. I found her dragging herself along when I put her outside to play. Again, she was nursed, bathed, fed and cuddled until her sprained foot and leg looked better about 5 days later. In the first three days, we packed her foot and leg with wrapped ice-cubes. She is all good now!

Penelope likes you to scratch her head – and if you don’t she pecks your hand delicately to remind you. She loves the radio music on while she is sleeping during the day and would not sleep in wet or soggy pooped beds. At night, she wants to be totally covered and tucked in and demands total silence.

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The Myth about Penelope

The wife of the hero Odysseus* in Greek mythology, Penelope, was celebrated for her faithfulness, patience, and feminine virtue. For the 20 years that her husband was away during and after the Trojan War, Penelope remained true to him and helped prevent his kingdom from falling into other hands.

Penelope’s parents were Prince Icarius of Sparta and the nymph Periboea. Periboea hid her infant daughter as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. However, a family of ducks rescued her. Seeing this as an omen, Icarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for “duck”) and raised her as his favorite child.

When Penelope reached womanhood, Odysseus asked for her hand in marriage. Although reluctant to part with his daughter, Icarius agreed, and Penelope went with her new husband to his home on the island of Ithaca. Penelope and Odysseus were deeply in love, so it was with great sorrow that Odysseus later left her and their infant son, Telemachus, to fight in the Trojan War.

The Trojan War lasted ten years, and it took Odysseus another ten years to get home to Ithaca. During that time, Penelope received the attentions of many suitors. For a while, she put them off by saying that she would consider marriage only after she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, who was grieving over Odysseus’s absence. Each day Penelope would sit weaving the cloth, but at night she would secretly unravel her work. After three years, a servant revealed Penelope’s secret, and she had to finish the shroud. When her suitors became insistent again, Penelope announced that she would marry the man who could shoot an arrow through the loops on a row of 12 ax heads.

Other wild duck stories on this blog are:

The Duck War

Princess is a Mother Again

Saved Duck Returns with Babies

Princess Celebrates Motherhood

Nothing Came with Rain

Princess Celebrates Motherhood


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Breakfast at Bellbowrie – Princess and partner stand on guard while their daughters eat first. The life of a duck in our backyard.

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.

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Family snack time on the front lawn.

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.

Click to read The Duck War story

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Flight practice. I caught them on my phone after work yesterday.

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.

Click here to read Saved Duck Returns with Babies story

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.

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The new girls marching in for morning tea by the poolside.

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.

 

 

Princess is a Mother Again


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Princess, facing the camera leads her daughters into our yard for breakfast.

Good news. Princess, our home-raised wild duck who lost all her family members, returned with eight ducklings. More on her story in tomorrow’s post.

 

Nothing Came With the Rain


The Family
First days in the family (Australian Wood ducks).

The rain eased at noon in Bellbowrie, Queensland today, but only for a few minutes. It has been storming for two days. The rain’s destruction was evident in washed garden beds and the main road overflows. I found some of my cuttings and seedlings floating in odd places, near the main road.

Yesterday, at the Coles Supermarket we were unable to purchase staple food like bread and rice. A Cole’s staff member said residents had a panic buy, stocking up in case it flooded like the 2011 Queensland floods. The supermarket was empty.

Several places outside our house were flooded. I had kept indoors and started a new artwork and read blogs. Only two days of wet weather and storms – yet there was too much water. On the news Brisbane was supposed to have 500mm of rain over the weekend. More rain will come.

In the distant, I heard a familiar cry that tugged at my heartstrings. I left the watercolour and went outside to the balcony.

“Listen!” I told my son Nathan.

We both waited and the cry was muffled by the sound of rain on our iron rooftop. It came again and I knew the cry was coming from the open field and then it moved around the back, near the duck’s nesting ground. She did come back. Her cries were strange, long and despondent. I knew.

“It’s her, something has happened”, I said.

I put my raincoat on and walked through the drizzle in the soft mushy flooded ground to her. The male duck, her partner was by her side, quiet. They made a striking couple. Her brown and white spotty breast and belly topped with deep brown-black wings, and he with a touch of spotty chest, blue-grey and black flumes. They stood on the fuzzy open plain of short stubby blue couch, Queensland’s native grass. The rain water was caught in the grass blades giving it a wet, fuzzy sheen.

I looked around the two ducks. The seven ducklings were nowhere to be seen. My heart sank. The inevitable had happened. The mother’s face was turned towards the pool, where she had hatched them. Her neck stretched forward and long in a breaking curve. Her mouth was wide opened, showing her pink insides as she wailed. Her cries were louder as I got closer. My eyes warmed into tears.

She looked at me and stopped crying. I stopped a few meters away. I wished I had some duck-words to comfort her. I could only offer her some food and walked away.