I was happy to have a new guest. After all, how much trouble could a wild duck be?
Our property has long been a home for waifs and strays. We’ve taken on geriatric roosters and aged sows, not to mention the occasional stray human. I immediately set about making sure the stray duck felt welcome.
Feeding our guest
I assumed she was a female Mallard. I brought out some crackers and threw them on the ground. She came over, nibbled, and promptly spat the crackers out. Then she whispered the oddest, most nasal and soft sound I’ve ever head from a duck.
She seemed to be scolding me for the sub-standard food I was offering. I tried not to take the insult personally. Instead I did what I always do when confronted with a rural mystery. I called Aussie Bronwyn.
“What do you feed a duck?” I asked.
“Well, bread soaked in milk, of course,” Aussie Bronwyn said. “Ducks don’t like things too dry. Are you fattening a duck for the table?”
“Um, no. I’m making friends with a wild duck in our goldfish pond.”
Aussie Bronwyn sighed deeply, no doubt amazed that after all this time in the country I was still so shockingly stupid.
“Ducks are filthy, dirty pigs,” she said. “They’re like the bachelor blokes of the animal kingdom. They leave the dishes stacked in the sink, they never scrub the toilet, and they have noisy parties. Mark my words, if you don’t chase that duck away it’ll turn your lovely goldfish pond into a toxic wasteland.”
“But she’s so cute,” I said.
“Mark my words,” Aussie Bronwyn said. “Mark my words.”
Life with a pet duck
The very next day I began feeding bread soaked in milk to our new guest, who I’d started to call Little One. She quickly gobbled it up and begged for more.
Soon we fell into a bit of a routine. In the morning I’d find Little One waddling around the edge of the pond like a queen strolling the palace grounds. She’d greet me and offer her whispered, nasal hello. She was very quiet. In the evening, when CJ and I came home from work, she would be standing on the front deck, ready for her royal banquet.
“Bap-bap,” she’d say. “Where’s my dinner, boys?!”
This was clearly a duck with entitlement issues.
As the days went by, Little One never once made a proper quacking noise, and she showed no signs of being able to fly at all. In fact, she never even stretched her wings. I looked around to see if she’d laid any eggs, but I found none.
Leave it to me to end up caring for the most pathetic duck in the Southern Hemisphere – one that didn’t quack, fly, or lay eggs. It was like having a web-footed cat.
Unfortunately, as Little One became more settled into life at our goldfish pond, she began trampling everything that CJ had carefully planted. In one spot she turned a patch of particularly precious succulents into a very comfortable day bed.
“That’s it,” CJ said, “We’re making duck soup.”
I glared. “The only way we’re making duck soup is if it’s followed by roasted pet kunekune.”
Soon Little One was eating out of my hand, and she’d grown so used to us that she actually began stepping into the house to demand her supper if I was running late.
Unfortunately she also began using our front deck like an army latrine. Every day I found more green slimy blobs. You might think this would have put an end to my complicated relationship with her, but how could I heartlessly evict an adorable duck from its happy home?
Instead, every evening before I fed Little One I simply hosed down the deck. This upset her terribly, and she made sure to tell me so.
How to determine duck gender
Eventually Aussie Bronwyn stopped by to check out the situation. She laid eyes on that duck, listened to her odd little, “Bap-bap,” and said, “That’s no lady. That duck’s an adolescent male.”
Male Mallards, it turns out, have a relatively quiet and whispery voice. It’s the females who have the loud, strong voice. (I know married couples like this. Perhaps they have Mallard genes.) Apparently novice bird watchers often confuse juvenile male Mallards with the females, because the young boys don’t yet have the luminous green head the adult males are known for.
Suddenly it was all clear. Little One was the duck version of a wayward teenage boy – messy, a little smelly, still convinced the world revolves around him, and not yet old enough to fly.
“It’s only two courses,” I said, somewhat defensively.
Things went on fine for another couple of weeks. Then, one day when I got home from work I looked out on the deck to see that Little One wasn’t there. I wandered out with some milk-soaked bread in my hands, calling to him, but he was nowhere to be found.
The next evening he was back on the deck and demanding dinner.
“Well,” I said, “I suppose you’ve come back just to do your laundry and get a home cooked meal.”
After I fed him, he waddled away and turned toward a gap in the trees.
Then the most startling thing happened. He looked up at the sky, flapped his wings, and flew away. After watching this duck waddle everywhere for a solid month, I was flabbergasted. It was absolutely beautiful.
I haven’t seen him since.
Have you ever raised a pet duck?
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