Let’s Go Outside: The Tale of Neville the Duck

21 Aug

When we moved into this house fifteen months ago we inherited three ducks. We named them Neville, Jemima and Vanessa. They were fascinating to watch as they swam in the pond, walked up the bank and across the garden to get to the paddock. There they would root about looking for the insects they adored. Often they would walk back from the paddock over the lawn with grass dripping down their beaks. A sign of a good rummage.

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When the winter came, that cold, desolate winter we had at the beginning of this year, they didn’t come out the pond anymore, but stayed down there, where they were safe from predators. The pond had an island in the middle. We wanted to house them, but we couldn’t get near them, so left them to do what they’ve been doing for four years or so quite happily. Then Spring came. Or rather , the lighter mornings. The ducks got it into their head they wanted to lay their eggs down the bottom of the paddock. What a noise they would make at 4.30am. One girl would lay at the bottom of the paddock, one nearer the house. Poor Neville in between, running about trying to protect them both. And the ducks quacking, almost honking, they were so loud. (Boy ducks are so much quieter, it’s the girls that make the noise).

I blocked off the gate to the paddock which confused them, but they laid nearer the house instead. Much better than laying in the flight path of the fox. And they quietened down, they weren’t separated anymore. After a while we stopped blocking the gate and it made no difference, the ducks still laid around the house. Until one terrible morning they decided to go for a wander again. And one never came back. They were heartbroken. I was heartbroken. The two remaining ducks continued to search for her for a few days.

They stuck to the pond after that but not long later the fox found its way up to the pond. The duck must have been laying on the bank and the fox took its chance. Only she got away. But then died from shock a few days later.

Neville was desolate.

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We had to get him more female ducks and fast. Only this time, it was going to be different. This time we’d get them a house and a run and lock them up at night. They’d lay their eggs in the house before we let them out.

We had no idea the ducks would have different ideas.

The three new ducks arrived and we left them in the coop and run. But because they’d never been in a pond before they were transfixed (our first mistake. We should not have put the house and run by the pond) and were desperate to get out the run. Neville ignored them at first, though his head shot up when he heard the first one quack. Soon he was sniffing around the run, having a good look. And the girls were desperate to get out and meet him. On the second day I relented (my second mistake) and let them out. Seeing them jump into the pond for the first time was lovely. They found Neville and swam around with him all day long.

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But could I get them back in the house at night? No. We had to catch them (our third mistake, it probably traumatised them). It took us 90 minutes, a pair of waders, four people and a lot of choice words before we finally had the three girls back in their house. The next day my husband built a fence out of pallets and chicken wire so they could go in the pond, but only part of the pond. It worked for a while, until one escaped. Then it was back to square one.

But I stopped feeding them in the morning and made sure they were hungry at night. Just so I could get them into their house. This worked one or two nights out of three. What drama. They were reluctant to come into the house as Neville was definitely not going anywhere near it. The first night we had to leave them out all night I was terrified the fox would get them.

When they were hungry enough they would go into the house and I’d close the door after them. Usually I went up the bank, hid (they wouldn’t come near the house if they could see me) and closed the door with the end of the pond net.

And what about Neville? Well, as he wouldn’t come into the house,  when the girls were feasting I would give him some food too. But he was so worried everytime I went near him.

Then last night, after 72 hours of no food (they have natural food in the pond so they weren’t starving to death) I opened the house, put the food in, and sat next to the run door. I couldn’t believe it when one, two females walked in. Then Neville wandered in! Even though the other female wasn’t in I closed the door quickly. Neville was in!

My husband put his waders back on so we could coerce the final female back in. And she did after not much fuss or drama.

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So. The question is, now I’ve caught them all, what do I do next?

My idea is to put them in the orchard, within the electric fence, but separated from the chickens in a smaller run. They’d have a paddling pool to swim in and they’d hopefully get used to me as I’m up there all the time.

But this morning, I was doubting myself. I feel cruel for taking them away from the big pond.

But. The fox now knows there are ducks in the pond. S/he could be back as the days and nights get colder.

Surely it is better for me to be cruel, to be kind? And they can go back to the pond once they’ve been trained up. Project Duck Move will be happening today.

 

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