July 2011
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Daisy the super mom –brooding a new duck flock

Ducklings 1

Mixed runner ducklings following Daisy,ten days after hatching.

One day in early June,Daisy and Violet Duck found themselves free outside their rolling safety cage as their careless people rushed off to work. Normally they stayed out to forage only when the people were home. At night and any time they were left alone,they were put into their pen where they could enjoy fresh air,water and a new patch of grass every day without danger from the many predators salivating at the thought of a juicy duck.

When the careless people returned that evening,Violet was gone. A prominently displayed calling card from M. Fox (scat) with a clump of Violet’s feathers next to it told the sad but all too familiar story. Violet had been a timid little duck but a good side-kick to the older and more outgoing Daisy and they had contentedly eaten slugs and grubs,laid eggs and entertained the people for four years without incident.

Now Daisy needed a companion. The trauma had stopped her egg production but she still acted “broody,”wanting to nest. So the people put a smooth,egg-shaped stone into her nest and it immediately became her reason to live. She diligently sat on that egg day and night,barely eating and drinking. Once a day she could be coaxed off the nest to run around,poop,quack and preen,but within 15 minutes was always back on her nest,meditatively keeping the stone warm and toasty.

Ducklings 2

Daisy resting and watching the eggs hatch.

After trying unsuccessfully to find a suitable companion,the people learned they could mail-order fertilized eggs from eFowl.com. A few days later Daisy went out for her daily ablutions and when she returned to the nest,instead of a single granite egg there were 12 real ones! She hesitated and turned away as though she would abandon them,but a heartbeat later resolutely stepped into the nest to begin her new life as a mother.

And what a great mother she’s been! Her people were nervous about what to expect and how to prepare for the hatchlings. The books on duck care,stressed that Indian Runners were not among the breeds with good mothering instincts. Did that mean she couldn’t be trusted to properly care for the little ones? Even the normally chatty Internet was silent about how to compensate if a duck mother was deficient in doing her job.

In retrospect the people realized that the lack of information was testiment to how little humans are needed when mother ducks are in charge.  Even Indian Runner moms know just what to do.

First evidence of maternal competence came when the eggs arrived. To make sure the eggs would be turned periodically,the people marked each egg with an X and O on opposite sides. Sure enough,she was turning them every few hours.

ducklings 3

Rolling duck pen with attached house -- an evolving system for duck safety and happiness.

When the hatching began 27 days later,she squatted over the little fuzz balls as they emerged,keeping them warm without crushing those that had hatched and maintaining heat for those still in their shells. Quite an athletic feat! Nine out of the twelve hatched –fuzzy little Runners ducks in a mix of colors.

By day 29 it was obvious that the remaining 3 eggs were not viable. They began to dry out and the previouslywell-maintained nest was flattened –tromped down by duckling stampedes. Daisy did not object when the dead eggs were removed.

A week later,Daisy demanded to leave the now-claustrophobic duck house so she could lead the flock outside into the caged pen. The ducklings were elated,racing around and nibbling on the grass. Thanks to the recent hot spell with ambient temps averaging in the high 70′s,Daisy was finally able to relax,and not work so hard to keep them warm. Each day their fuzz has increasingly been replaced by warmer proto-feathers. They are now comfortably handling nights in the 50′s without stress.

Daisy’s work as a mom is nearly complete. She watches them indulgently from a short distance,a distinct look of pride on her little ducky face.

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