Nature Talks pic

Trois (left) is safe and sound with his new girlfriend.

I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT my domestic ducks before — how I purchased three 10-day old ducklings at Tractor Supply and Une, Deux, and Trois led a happy life wandering around the farm, swimming in the fire pond during the day, at dusk marching single file across the lawn, through the horse pen, behind the barn, and into their stall where they would settle in until I locked them in for the night. Until a year and a half later when they waited a little too long to wander home and Une, the only female, got snatched. This spring, a year and a half later, Deux disappeared.

Trois was spooked enough to no longer make the trip to the barn. He spent all of this summer in the pond, walking up the slope each morning and evening — his head then chest then full body coming into view like a soldier ascending a hilltop battlefield — to chow down on some duck crumble in front of the barn.

This is the duck I wrote about earlier this summer who puzzlingly disappeared during the day. I found he had adopted a wild mallard hen and her duckling and guarded them in the swamp across the street, stopping traffic twice a day (walking — he can’t fly very well) to come home for meals.

The family left and Trois spent some time alone in his pond. And then mallards started coming and going. First a half dozen or so of this year’s youngsters. Those whittled down to two, one of which very quickly developed the classic iridescent green head of the male mallard. Trois was protective of the young couple. Then a few more appeared. I didn’t really want to be feeding the wild mallards but I didn’t want my own duck, to whom I felt responsible, going hungry. So I put out plenty for everyone.

One fall morning I counted 20 wild ducks and one domestic Khaki Campbell eating on the lawn. I now was putting out two pans of grain. And then suddenly it got cold. Half the pond froze. The wild mallards had clearly been gathering for migration and all but the young couple were gone. Two thirds of the pond froze. Trois and his friends paddled enough under one low-hanging tree to keep the water free. Then 99.8 percent of the pond froze. The mallard couple left. Trois was now alone, trying to keep a duck body’s worth of water free of ice. I kept thinking how stupid he was to not finally just come to the barn for the winter. How could I get him in? A canoe? A net?

One late afternoon I stopped home before an evening commitment and Trois, who had not been near the barn in weeks, marched up the lawn and made a beeline for the front door of the barn. My plan was to put him temporarily in the grain room at the front corner because his original stall in the back was now involved in a reconstruction project. I had made a hay bed for him and now I tried to herd him in. Success was so close but suddenly he flew back to the pond.

The overnight temps were headed toward single digits. What was I going to do? I couldn’t let this stupid duck freeze to death. On my way back home that evening I determined that I was going to get this duck tonight even if I had to plunge into the pond. I dressed in several layers of barn clothes, boots, gloves, a cap with built-in lights and a knit hat over that. I was not looking forward to it but I was ready. Even if he was stupid, he was my responsibility.

First, I went to the barn to turn on the lights. I slid open the barn door and in the dim light provided by my hat, I was startled by something at the base of the grain room door. It was Trois. He let me carry him into the grain room and put him in the hay bed I had ready for him. I was utterly amazed — and so relieved.

Trois had had to trek through the horse pasture, duck under the fence, and walk up the hill behind the barn with plans to go in his old stall (that he hadn’t been near for five months). Then he would have had to climb into the barn over all the sill work and open floor, walk up the 40-foot aisle, and plop down at the grain room door somehow knowing either that this is where I wanted him or this was where I went in and out several times a day and would find him. He now has a warm hay bed, a small outdoor enclosure, and gets his daily warm tub—and a female companion that a friend with ducks gave me.

My tune has changed. That is one smart duck.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.