Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Domestic and wild ducks meet up at the farmBy CHERYL KIMBALL June 08. 2018 6:40PM
Three years ago around Easter I bought three domestic ducklings. They graduated from a tub in the mudroom to a pen on the enclosed porch to the dog pen to a stall in the barn to which I attached a chain link outside pen. By fall they were free-ranging during the day and went in at night. They turned out to be Khaki Campbell ducks; two were male and one was female. I named her “Une,” the more robust and slightly aggressive one of the boys Deux, and the other Trois.
Une turned out to be a good layer. She was also a bit aloof; the boys protected her while she simply went about her business. One fall evening over a year after I got them, I was late getting to the barn to lock them in and they were late coming up from our little fire pond at the base of the slope of lawn right beside the road, which they had been delighted to discover. Une never appeared again.
The two boys were a bit lost but carried on. They had their ritual — bathe in the pool I filled for them even on winter mornings, forage with the horses for the day, maybe visit the pond, duck (literally) under the horse fence to their pen in early evening, hang in their pool until I put them in. I learned to “herd” ducks and taught them to come in to my singsong “time for bed!”
They occasionally fraternized with wild mallards that stopped by most springs to check out our little fire pond. This spring a pair stayed awhile. I thought the female might be nesting on the float in the middle of our pond because the male seemed to settle in beside the float for long periods of time.
Then one evening, no Deux. Trois drifted around the pond and would not come in no matter how beautifully I sang “time for bed!” A couple days later he too disappeared and I assumed I no longer had ducks — until I returned from a short vacation and there was Trois! I put food out for him, he was happy to eat, and then he went back to the pond. Or so I thought. When I looked for him in the small pond, I could never find him. But every day he came back for meals.
One morning I was drinking coffee at the kitchen window and saw a car stop. In a minute or so, it moved on. And then a minute or so after that I saw Trois appear from the weeds at the edge of the pond. He walked up the lawn and hung around in front of the barn. I went out, gave him his food, he ate, and before I was finished feeding the horses, Trois headed back to the pond. And then a car stopped once more. Hmm, I thought, it seems like Trois is living in the swampy area across the street from the pond. I should check that out. When I drove by the next couple times I slowed and could see him floating in the same spot next to a hump of ground each time. He continued to come home for meals and then go back to his place in the swamp.
The next Saturday mid-morning I walked across the road to the swamp. As swamps tend to be, this one was full of vegetation and fallen branches, making little coves everywhere. Trois was there but swimming around. And also swimming around was a female mallard. And swimming with her was one tiny incredibly cute duckling. Trois was either the actual dad — domestic and wild ducks, particularly mallards, will mate. Or he was being a protective, self-appointed step-dad. Or “step-duck,” as I took to calling him.
I was so proud of him for being so responsible! For another week or so he did the commute from swamp to pond, ate his meals, and then commuted back. But Trois now has started to hang around the barn longer. He still will not allow himself to be locked in at night; he spends his nights in the pond. But the minute he hears that I am up and about in the morning, he marches up the lawn quietly quacking and awaits his breakfast. Sometimes he comes right up to the bulk head and begs at the kitchen window.
I have not seen the mallard and her duckling again. And Trois has now taken to hanging out in the shade under the end of the truck like a dog might. My husband thinks he saw his reflection in the bumper and thinks he is hanging out with another duck. We were calling him “across-the-street duck,” then “step-duck.” Now we call him “truck duck.” I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.