Oswald died. It was four hours after Oswald’s sibling died. My son pronounced him dead about 6:30pm, but with disbelief I had to turn the duckling several times to make sure he was not just asleep. I had nursed him on my chest and we slept for two hours earlier. He seemed fine, eating a little and drinking water. He stood up and walked. But, he could not settle into the nest where the other duckling had died hours earlier. I change the bedding and kept his little fluffy body with me.
He had been named Oswald by Nathan (my older son). Nathan decided that the five-day-old duckling who lost 11 siblings and parents the night before should be called Oswald. The name carried strength and depicted something or someone showing tenacity for life. I agreed immediately to Oswald.
“The duckling is very brave and strong”, Nathan said.
Oswald was one of our duck Penelope’s first babies. She had 12. We decided to leave the ducks alone when she introduced the babies to our family last week. ‘Let them grow up wild’ was what we all agreed on because Penelope was house-bred. She taught them to eat, swim and play each day last week. The pond was busy.
Earlier Sunday, and not used to quietness from the water, I went out to investigate. I found the once happy flock dispersed in a mud of desecrated fine feathers, duck poop and small white floating dead bodies. My heart was in my mouth as I walked about, trying to find them all. Penelope and her Stalker husband had gone. One mutilated corpse was on the child’s table we left for the ducklings to dry out from the pool. It became clear that something bad happened on Saturday night. At that time, five ducklings went missing and since the parents had fled from whatever it was, the remaining ducklings died from the cold. While searching I heard some soft cries and found Oswald and his brother pinned into the side of the pool, both shivering in the water they used to swim in. I called Nathan for help and we took the ducklings to the house and made a soft box and tried to feed them. Only Oswald ate. Then the two snuggled up and slept. The smaller of the two ducks was very weak. In less than two hours it died.
After the other duckling died, Oswald jumped out of the box and refused to sleep. We took turns nursing him until I fell asleep with the duckling on the couch. It was dark when I fed him again and placed him in a warm bed. He fell asleep straight away. At 6:30pm, Chris checked the box and told me the duckling died. Given the way the duckling had shown courage and bravery, it was not easy to accept that Oswald’s life would have ended the same way as his eleven siblings.
It rained yesterday. It has been six weeks since we started caring for the ten wild Pacific Black ducklings. Read previous post when the ducklings had their first swim. All ten have survived and thrived. It is also close to that time when they return to the wild. Although they were not ready to fly, I was itching to let them out to eat greens and socialise with their mother, the other ducks and animals. My sons and I discussed letting the ducks out. I thought we had all agreed.
Nathan left for University lectures and my younger son Chris opened the cage. The first brave six stood by the fence line, for ten to 15 minutes, unsure of their next move. Chris and I stayed in the house and watched them. Over the six weeks, we had cared and fed the ducks, but made sure we did not touch them or get close to them during feeding and play time.
Then, all six left the cage entrance and headed for the gardens. Their four siblings remained in the cage. The six explored all areas surrounding our house. They seemed very inquisitive and excited.
About 20 minutes later, the six returned to have some food. The mother was away somewhere in the bushes. The four still stayed inside, out of sight. As the six adventurous ducklings started eating, their mother arrived and shared their lunch.
After lunch the mother headed for the water. The six followed. And, the fun began for all of us – ducks and humans. I suddenly realised they were moving away from the house and they may not return to the cage or safety for the night. It was hard to know what could happen, but they looked so happy, I went along with it.
I kept watch as they walked towards the pool and without any hesitation, they jumped into the water and started playing. It was wonderful to watch.
After at least an hour, I went to the pan and took out the four ducklings and move them to join their mother and siblings. They needed a little confidence to cross the backyard to the water.
Throughout the day – the ducklings played, swam and practiced flying – by skidding across the water as they normally do. By 6pm, it got dark and they made no move to return to the pan. They huddled in the corner, in the water. Their mother stood outside, nearby. We tried to put them back into their nest from 6pm until 9:30pm. They split up and swam in away and re-grouped. It was hard and they were very quick.
It was time to think of another way to bring them back in the cage. My older, very-annoyed-with-me son, held the torch, while I made the duck-catcher. I also had to explained to the aspiring medical doctor how the basket would work and how and why it was the best thing and it would NOT hurt the ducklings. It was a simple fishing basket, but four times bigger. I had made these things all my childhood life to catch fish. We set the basket in the corner of the pool with ropes to jerk up quickly – like a snap-trap, and guided the ducklings with noises and calling. Innocently they swam to the basket. First, we caught four, then they worked it out so we changed positions and where we placed the basket, and caught four and then one.
“I was wishing we caught the last two together, because the one left would be the hardest, ” Chris said and I agreed. We all knew, the real work was yet to come, and it was already 10:30pm.
Half hour later, desperate, I found myself crawling through the bush on all fours on duck shit and sneaking up to catch the very quick and smart six-week-old duckling. It kept on sensing my presence and swam away. This was not the way I remember my child-hood, and the days in the wild, it was more fun and I was faster. By 11pm, my two sons, who by now blamed everything on me, decided to try their own way with a net we used for the chicken coop. After they set up the net, the duckling cleverly swam away from their net and towards the dark bushy corner where I hid on duck shit. It came right next to me and I tried to hold my breathing while I let the duckling relax for just two minutes or so. And then, I scooped it up with a milk carton and my hands. The duckling and my sons all got a shock.
“You look nice enough to eat,” I joked to the bewildered duckling. No-one in my family was impressed.
With dry towel and a cuddle, the duckling was quickly re-united with its siblings.
It was midnight when that last duckling was caught. My sons and I were too tired to speak to each other, nor argue.
However, an earlier lecture from my older son that evening, was that we will now wait for two to three more weeks for the ducks to fly before we can let them go. That would ensure that they are strong and fast enough to survive predators. Oh well, I thought, I have never been one to be a caged bird myself. There is too much sun and fun to be enjoyed outside, in the wild. I sure did re-live my childhood years once more and it was not too bad, despite family opinions.
Ten ducklings had their first day with their mother in the water yesterday. The Pacific Black duck pair had been living in our backyard this last year. These are their first hatchlings.
The test begins now to see if they would all survive into autumn. Last night, between 7pm and 9pm, Nathan, Chris and I barely managed to put them into a safe enclosure for the night.
At 4:30am this morning, I woke up to some loud scrapping sounds only to find, it wasn’t the usual suspects, the possums, but the local rascal, the wild cat that kills birds in our neighbourhood. The cat tried to get into the enclosure. I got out, just in time to chase it away.
Almost six weeks ago we found a duckling, just a few days old, left in our swimming pool by her parents. She has now grown up and is moving out of our house with some of her new friends. I was getting a little emotional with this story so I had to remove myself and put the story away for two days. The storm in Brisbane last night put my internet off, so I could not post on this blog.
This is the third time we raised a wild duckling, so we know that life changes when you take helpless animals into your home. They become part of the family before you know it. It may be because we have become so attentive to such animals that my sons and I have learnt this duckling’s habits; her favourite place to sit, her favourite weed and her specific cries for different things, similar to a human baby. I found myself finishing work and rushing outside to pick her favourite weeds in the surroundings of my workplace. I have seen people walk or drive by and give me funny looks. It was worth it when I got home and she rushed to me and ripped the weeds out of my hands.
Anyway, it has been over a month since we rescued Goddess Penelope (pictured above). She also turned out to be a female, even though we named her a little early without knowing her sex (see previous post).
Penelope grew up quickly and took to our chickens right away. The other wild ducks gave her scornful looks, pecked and chased her. This behaviour happened with the previous ducklings we had saved, before the flock eventually accepted the house-raised ducks.
The last three days have brought major changes for Penelope. It was her moving out phase. The duckling took to the water and the bushland in front of our property easily. An older male duck hung around nearby. I told my sons the male duck could be a stalker watching her, and my sons argued that it could be her father. Who is to know? I guess I was being an over-protective parent, but I am worried. Penelope has had a tough life so far.
Once we introduced her to the other birds, the other wild ducks chased and pecked her and in turn, she chased and pecked our chickens. The regular chickens did not entertain her cheekiness, but soft feathery Silky Batemans (silkies) could not get away from her. The silkies as the Australians call them, are slow, soft and cuddly birds.
Initially Penelope tried to talk to them, walk and sit with them. Then she pecked them, often holding up clumps of feathers in her beak. She got a lot of lectures from me, but we all had to be patient.
Her behaviour scared the silkies and for hours she would run behind them while they fled across the backyard over the weekend. I tried to stop her, but she would run in between the silkies and this confused the chickens even more. The silkies thought I was chasing them too. At the end of her first day out – Penelope was ready to sleep in the chicken pen, with the silkies, but they would not let her in.
After the third day and a stormy night last night, the silkies gave in to Penelope’s charms. The silkies are all males too. The black silky (pictured above) has become her guardian. He shares his food with her.
Today, I tried to lure Penelope with her favourite weeds, but she did not eat any, because the silkies did not like the weeds. She gave me ‘the eye’ like she was saying – “what are you trying to do?” Maybe I embarrassed her, just like I do to my sons sometimes – the awkward teenager thing …
She has to grow up, and I know she is tough and she will survive in the wild. Penelope waits at the cage each evening to be put away for the night with the silkies. In a way, she has officially moved out. She does not make any crying sounds. Penelope has found her temporary home, where she will stay in the meantime until she can fly. My son Nathan commented that, Penelope wants so much to be with the silkies, that he half expects the teenage duck to start crowing in the morning with the three roosters.
The silkies live in a pen which is closed in so they don’t get attacked by foxes and snakes. In the evenings, they huddle in this corner and wait to be placed inside the cage and locked up. Here are some pictures from Penelope’s first day when she tried to get to spend the night with the chickens.
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.
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.
The wild duck we saved twice, once from the drought (in December last year) and the second time from the python has hatched seven ducklings today in our backyard at Bellbowrie, Queensland. The python had taken one of the two ducks we saved (see story here) last February and the rest of its siblings died from the drought and the cold.
Today, my two sons already saved the seven ducklings from being eaten. As I write this story, I can hear the ducklings quacking in high baby pitches and I am torn between separating them for a safer enclosure or leaving them out in the bush with their mother and father. I have made a warm bed and tried to make their hiding place as safe as it can be but the babies could be eaten before day break. As babies do, they are making too much noise and soon, others will know their hiding place – the swimming pool skimmer box.