Saturday, September 15, 2007

A week of ups and downs for our backyard wildlife

A couple months ago I wrote about one of our ducks' strange meanderings. A few weeks ago this very same duck started spending a lot of her time in the duck house. She didn't even come out for food. It turned out she was sitting on two eggs. While all of our ducks are quite enthusiastic when it comes to mating, and pretty good at producing eggs, the eggs tended to be left lying wherever they were laid: the front garden bushes, deep in the pond, along the bank, you name it. Up to now, none of the ducks seemed to have the faintest idea about nesting.

Well, this mama duck managed to master the nesting thing and on Monday, hatched two fuzzy black ducklings. It was exciting, but we were apprehensive at the same time. Would she know what to do next? Would they get enough food? Would they be warm enough?

We watched them carefully on Monday and Tuesday, bringing water and some ground duck pellets out to the duck house each day. On Wednesday, she ventured forth with her brood. A bit of drama ensued. Mama duck took the little ones out for a swim, and then proceeded to take them to one of her favorite spots for sitting: the pond's overflow grate. Her spatial relationship skills proved even more suspect than her parenting skills, as one of the ducklings fell through the grate! There was much flapping and panicked quacking, which fortunately caught Chris' attention. He realized what had happened, went into the woods behind the pond, crawled through a wet and spidery culvert, retrieved the little fella, and reunited it with mama duck (all this was even more remarkable given that Chris is all trussed up in a contraption designed to heal a broken clavicle ... but that's another story!).

All seemed well from that point. Mama took her little ones out during the day, and retired to the safety of the duck house in the early evening. On Friday night we went out to visit the little ones and enjoyed watching them splash about. But in the middle of the night, we heard a lot of panicked quacking coming from all 8 ducks. This chorus is usually reserved for really scary and threatening situations. In the morning, the ducks were all clustered together on the grate. But the ducklings were gone.

I know the deck is stacked against ducklings born this time of year, since they are unlikely to reach a suitable body weight before the weather gets cold. But they were so cute and fluffy. It's sad.


Wendy said...

Oh, what a sad tale, Laura! Do you have any guesses as to what might have happened? Did they fall through the grate again? Or maybe raccoons got them? I love nature, but I'm always dismayed at how ruthless it can be - whenever I watch nature shows and an animal gets in trouble I find myself yelling at the T.V. for the photographer to go in and save the day!

Laura said...

Wendy, we don't think they fell through the grate again. At least, we didn't hear any "cheeps" like we did the first time. But then, they may not have survived a fall (or the cold overnight). I'm betting on a fox or raccoon. Boo hoo.

Wendy said...

That would be my guess too, Laura. Raccoons (which are drawn to the water) are so aggressive they's be my first suspect...and they are carnivores. A friend of mine lost her parrot from a raccoon attack. The bird was on his perch on the patio and my friend was fixing dinner when she heard the bird screaming - she rushed out to see TWO raccoons ripping the poor bird apart.

Poor duckies - I hope there will be more to replace them. Maybe now that the mama has figured out how to parent, she'll do it again!