Spoiled Ducks

Day 53 of 365

We have seven Indian Runner ducks. Six are the ones we special ordered from the best waterfowl hatchery we could find. One is a duck who taught me one of the most valued lessons I have learned in my life. She’s a chocolate runner named Anna Maria, and I will have to tell her story one day soon. It will take me some work to do justice to Anna Marie. She’s special.

But she’s spoiled. All of our ducks have become so spoiled. It happens every summer. We are with them so much they get used to us and start bossing us around. Only, this year, it’s worse. Every year, they get a little bolder and a little bolder. It’s a new level this summer. Today, those ducks sat at the back door and quacked very loudly until we brought them treats–three times. And, I assure you, a group of female ducks can make a lot of noise. So, you give in.

Our neighbors are not that close, but duck sounds carry. Our neighbors have geese and ducks, and when my son and I go for a walk down our road, when the ducks and geese start carrying on, you can hear it for like a quarter of a mile for sure.

So I worry about the loud ducks. So I give them everything they demand.

It’s usually Anna Marie who starts it. She’s extra spoiled. She’s been through a lot in her life. We got her when she was about one year old and have been spoiling her extra every day of her life. Ducks are very smart. They all figured out that everything Anna Maria asked for she got.

Yesterday, we found that some of the ducks were leaning across the fence into a garden area eating the broccoli leaves. Ron went over to them away, and they all ganged up on him and quacked and quacked at him. They were clearly griping at him. Ron had to move the fence farther from the broccoli, and those spoiled ducks quacked at him, complaining about it the whole time.

Tonight, while I made dinner, I took the ducks their nightly greens from the garden. During greens season in the garden, every single night, Ron or I give the ducks their fresh greens.

And I’m not even kidding about this–our ducks will not eat store-bought greens. I have thrown some to them at times when I have bought lettuces in the off season. They’re organic. But nope. The ducks will not eat store-bought greens. They would rather go without. How are they this spoiled?

But they are. And they are so cute they can get away with it. And it helps us on feed bill that both the chickens and the ducks can eat from the garden. I mean, look at them. You can see why they are so spoiled. It’s why every single night I play the duck game.

Duck Game

Day 22 of 365

We have seven Indian Runner ducks (six females and one male), and they are magnificent. We have had them for over four years now, and every night for four years, we all play a game. It starts with peas and ends with a tail shake and many circles around the duck house. I call it our “duck game.”

Before I explain the duck game, I feel I should explain Runner ducks for those who do not know. Runner ducks are suspicious of EVERYTHING. And I do mean everything. We raised these babies by hand, but if I am wearing the hood on my robe on cold days, I cannot be identified and must be feared. They will run, quack, and just in general make me feel like a horrible person who is surely an eater of ducks.

Our male duck, Antonio, falls in love with me every spring and summer. When he hears my voice, he comes running from across the field to see me. He gets pets and snuggles. He stands on my shoes and tells me he loves me. He does this every single time–until I try to video him. Then, there’s the phone–a foreign object that cannot be trusted and may, in fact, eat ducks.

And, of course, there’s the peas. Every single night of my life, I warm up one pound of frozen peas in a medium-sized white bowl, add warm water, and deliver said peas to said ducks before they go to bed. Every single night. Rain, sleet, or snow. When the pandemic first started and everyone else was scrambling to buy toilet paper, yeast, and flour, I was trying to secure frozen peas.

One time, I accidentally ran out of peas. I tried frozen blueberries. Ducks love blueberries. But, no, before bed, it’s only frozen peas. One night, I tried fresh peas from our garden. Hard no. Only frozen peas. Early on, I used a different bowl one night. Hard no. All bowls other than the medium-sized white bowl are suspect. One cold winter night, when there had been a snowstorm and the ducks had been hunkered down all day without eating much, I tried to bring them TWO medium-sized white bowls full of peas. Hard pass. Two was scary.

So, yeah, routine is important.

After the peas are devoured, it’s time for the game to begin. We start slowly. We go around the duck house one time, two times, three times. Usually, after round one or two, our one chocolate Runner duck we rehabilitated heads into the duck house. She doesn’t trust me. It’s been three years, but you never know when I might try again to give her medicine. You just never know. (I will have to write more about her soon. Her name is Anna Maria, and she’s a little miracle to me.)

The rest keep going. We go around and around the duck house a few more times. As we go, a few more ducks will peel off and head into the duck house. Sometimes, Boudica helps me, and we can get the ducks into the house in just maybe six or so rounds. There have been times, however, on my own, that I have made over twenty circles around the duck house. I remember feeling dizzy from the circles as I leaned into the duck house to say goodnight and close the door.

Antonio tries to help every single night. His raspy little quack tries to boss the girls around, but there are two girls who like to play way too much. No matter how much he tries to help (and he tries everything, from standing at the duck house door rasping at them to coming back out of the house himself and trying to herd them in on the next round), two girls refuse to be bossed around by him.

They are the last ones up every single night, and one, our smallest duck who is full of personality, is almost always the very last. The first time I realized this might be fun for her was one night, after everyone else had gone into the house, she stood at the door. “I might go in,” she seemed to say. “But I might not.”

I froze. She froze. I was hopeful. Maybe she was going in. But then, she wagged her little tail and took off again around the duck house. “This duck is messing with me,” I said to myself.

Now, after so many nights of this same scene with her, I realize it is absolutely a game. I also realized the tail wag was a good thing for sure when I saw my husband feeding grubs and worms to the ducks as he was breaking new ground for more garden area. The ducks would come when he called for them, grab a snack, and then wag their tails with delight. It’s just about the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Most nights, I love to play the duck game with this little duck. Every now and then, in the rain, I am begging her to please just go to bed. Of course, she loves the rain. Just loves it.

I have thought that I might not know what to do with myself without the duck game. It has become this fantastic part of my life, my routine, and I feel pretty fortunate to know these ducks. I love that I do this every night of my life. In fact, it’s bedtime for ducks. I need to go play duck game.

***

I have a quick Ruby and Kate update. Kate is still broody and doing well. I find out tomorrow if there will be babies for me to pick up for her. And Ms. Ruby is a VERY good mama! I can see there are six babies for sure. There might be seven, as there were seven eggs under her, but all I can see right now is a sea of little legs when I lift Ruby. I hate to bother them too much, but I figure we will know for sure very soon how many babies she has hatched. In a few days, she will be taking her babies on field trips. I love the field trips!

Dog Crates and Duck Eggs

Day 16 of 365

I have no recipe for you today, as today has gone longer than I had anticipated, but I do have a name for that recipe now and will have the recipe for you tomorrow. I think it will be a treat. My struggle with recipes is that I want to tell too many stories before I get to the recipe, which just annoys the heck out of people, so I am trying to figure out how to tell my story about the recipe very briefly. We’ll see if I can manage that tomorrow.

Today was spent focused on duck eggs and dog crates. I’ll start with the dog crate story.

We have two giant dog crates, which are truly just essential for chicken keeping. They are hospital wards and broody hen homes. Two used to be enough–until Juliet claimed one. She has to come into the garage to lay her eggs, and unless I provide her with a proper dog crate, she’s going to either lay her eggs in my husband’s tools or just leave altogether and lay her eggs in the woods. We’ve been there and done this.

Since Ruby has a dog crate now and I need a space for Kate and her eggs, I have been looking online for a used dog crate. I refuse to pay full price for a new dog crate. My frugal self simply will not allow it. Both of our current dog crates were purchased used and have been wonderful. Once you get a good deal on something, how is it possible to then go backwards and pay full price for something? For me, it’s just too painful.

So I have been on the hunt and getting a little desperate. But, today, I found a used dog crate that would be perfect! Ron was in the garden working, so I went out to discuss it with him. He was not a fan of my plan. We don’t really have the room for storing three dog crates. “We need a barn,” he said.

I agreed, but I explained that there was really no choice in this matter because of Juliet.

“You’re going to buy another dog crate because we have a spoiled chicken?” he asked.

I confirmed.

So I set up the meet, drove out to a beautiful house on a beautiful pond, and landed the perfect dog crate for Kate. I’ll have to share a picture soon because I am quite proud of myself.

I spent another part of my day washing and then freezing duck eggs. I love chicken eggs, but duck eggs are just extra. To me, they are everything wonderful about chicken eggs–and then some. I love them boiled the most, but they are an absolute dream for baking. Professional chefs and bakers prize duck eggs for their cooking, and I can see why. They are magnificent.

Ours are also beautiful, at least I think so. We have a total of seven ducks–six females and one male, Antonio. He’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time. We originally had just six ducks, but a few years ago, a farmer friend asked if I might be willing to rehabilitate a female she had who had been over-mated. Anna Maria was in pretty tough shape, but I took her on and am thankful. I am happy to report that she thrives now.

She also lays a green-ish egg! My reward for sure!

We have one other duck who also lays a green egg, but Anna Maria’s are the darkest. This morning, after I washed the eggs and was about to crack and freeze them, I decided it was imperative that I do a duck-egg photo shoot.

Aren’t they beautiful?

***

I have a quick Ruby and now Kate update. Ruby is doing well considering. She had some whole wheat pancake for breakfast, and I discovered that she won’t really eat unless I feed her. I put a tiny bowl right under her face, left and did some other chores, and came back to find she hadn’t eaten. When I put the pancake bites in my hand, she ate. So I guess I’m feeding Ruby by hand for the next week.

Kate will be moved to her crate tomorrow, and, then we just cross our fingers that she’ll take the baby chicks next week. I’ll detail the process in a later post. She seems to be doing well.

Everybody Loves Cello

Day 6 of 365

Today was a big day off of our little farm. That’s why I am so late to write. My cello mom work started early this morning and didn’t end until long after dark.

photo credit: Janderson Tulio, Unsplash

Our son is a cellist, and he’s a pretty serious cellist. Today, my husband drove us to Augusta, and we listened to one of the most beautiful orchestra concerts I think I have ever heard. There was the drive, the rehearsal, the making of food to eat in the car, the drive home. It’s a long day at the end of a long season of 10 weeks of driving, eating in the car, sitting in the car during three-hour rehearsals.

But, truly, it’s worth it and then some. If you have never heard The Sicilienne, the third movement of Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande, give it a listen here. It’s magnificent! And I just heard it played live by an orchestra—and my kiddo played in the orchestra. I have no words for the joy this brought me.

Thinking of the cello reminds me to tell you a story about the Eastern Phoebes who have made a nest on our deck. It was just a treat watching them build that nest over the last few weeks. Those birds worked so hard. Thankfully, I learned Eastern Phoebes tolerate people very well. How fortunate am I? I mean, I won’t get too close. I promised the female Phoebe I would be respectful of her space (I have a whole other story to tell about that later), but I am still in for some joy this summer. I read they might raise two broods! I am so glad these fantastic birds chose our deck. 

Last night, when my son was practicing his cello, it started to rain, and I had to step outside onto the deck to bring in some aloe plants I had potted during the day. When I stepped outside, I could hear my son’s cello so loudly and clearly from outside the window, and then I realized the Eastern Phoebe nest was right above the window to our son’s music room. 

For a moment, I worried about the nest being so close to that loud cello music, but then it occurred to me that the Phoebes would have surely been aware of the loud cello music while building their nest. Our son plays cello six days a week for about two hours each day. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Phoebes like cello music, too. 

“At least that A string,” Ron said when I told him what I noticed. “Yeah, at least that A string,” I thought.  

We have a duck who injured her leg on the ice one winter several years ago. She had to live in the house for nearly eight weeks while she recovered. During that time, we discovered she loved the cello. When our son would start to practice, she would come from wherever she was in the house and park herself right under the cello. She would stay there for the whole cello practice! It was amazing!

I did some research and learned that birds process music in the same part of their brains as we do. How cool is that?   

***

Oh, and I have a quick Ruby update. She’s still on the eggs and took no break today. I gave her some leftover homemade waffles as a treat. She ate them out of my hand very aggressively and then gave me a good hard peck on the hand for good measure. Oh, Ruby! 

I will candle her eggs on Wednesday.

A Scream in the Woods

Day 5 of 365

I have a story to tell today! But, before I can tell it, I think I have to give a little context.

In 2019, we had our first hawk attack on our chickens. I was in the house and heard a loud scream from the chicken area, but I didn’t run out there right away. We had 8 young chickens, who were about 9 weeks old, and they had just been out with the “grown ups” for a few days. I watched them closely for the first couple of days to make sure they weren’t picked on too much. They weren’t. We have a pretty peaceful flock. But a couple of them just screamed and screamed at the slightest peck on the head. They had some melodramatic leanings for sure. One was a little rooster, and he was as cute as can be–and such a mama’s baby. When his mama said he had to be grown up at 9 weeks, he took it hard.

Given this situation, I took my time getting out to the chicken area when I heard that scream. When I opened the front door and saw the reason for the scream–a hawk on the back of one of my original Rhode Island Reds, Lucy II, I was devastated. I ran upon the hawk, but I was too late. It was truly one of the most devastating experiences because I could have saved her. I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world, and truly, that day, I was.

I vowed that would never happen again.

And it hasn’t. I am now extremely in tune with every sound, every call, every bit of talking. At the slightest potential sound of distress, I drop everything I am doing and go check. Without fail. Every single time. For nearly 4 years. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if it’s good for my nerves, but it is what it is.

I have become so adept at figuring out bird calls, I feel part bird. This has been helpful in keeping my chickens safe, but we live in the Maine woods, and in the spring and summer, this means I also hear, with far too much detail, the calls of the birds in our woods. It’s mostly wonderful, but being awoken at 4:00 in the morning because a wild bird is upset about something does get old. And the worst is when I hear a baby distress call. The very worst is when I hear a baby distress call that goes on and on and on and on. I know something must have happened.

That happened last night. I was cooking a very late dinner because Ron was working in the garden until dark and I had some final grades due for a class. As I was cooking, it was starting to get dark outside, and I heard the distress call. I kept hearing it and hearing it and hearing it. It’s heartbreaking.

When Ron came in, I told him about it. And then told him about it some more. I knew there was nothing to be done. I could tell it was in a tree very near our house, but I had no idea what tree, and what would I do anyway? Climb a tree?

Ron got up and shut the windows. “There,” he said. “No more outside noise.”

We finished dinner, and then I got the duck’s peas ready for bedtime. I opened the back door and stepped out to greet the ducks and was also ready to listen carefully to see if I still heard the baby bird distress call.

What I heard instead was a scream that sounded just like a human screaming in terror, and it was coming from right above my head.

I just froze in panic. For a few seconds, my brain had no idea what I had heard. I had this instinct to drop the peas and run, but I also had the instinct to run to my ducks to protect them. I couldn’t move a muscle. And then, about 30 seconds later, I heard “who cooks for you?”

photo credit: Richard Lee, Unsplash

Oh my gosh! That’s a barred owl, I thought to myself, and I could breathe again. Of course, then I realized I had better get the ducks into the house, as that owl was right above us. I watched far too much of a video one time about what an owl does to a duck head. Thankfully, the ducks didn’t play their games too much last night and went into the duck house fairly quickly. As I circled the duck house for a few short rounds of the duck game, I realized I also didn’t hear the baby bird in distress anymore…

It could be a coincidence, but the sounds were definitely from the same area. And, as sad as I am for that baby bird, I know an owl has to eat, and it’s better this way than that poor baby starving to death.

Nature.

When I came inside to tell Ron about it, he didn’t seem to understand the weight of my fear of that first scream. He probably would have known it was an owl immediately. I did not. I hear a lot of owls, but I had never heard that particular scream that close to me before. I’ll bet it was less than 15 feet from me.

My adrenaline must have gotten up so much from the scream that I ended up with a terrible headache, and, of course, felt silly for being so scared. I guess, for about 30 seconds, I thought Stephen King was right and there were terrible things in the Maine woods.

Thankfully, it was just a barred owl, but if you have never heard the scream, you must listen to it here. I found it by Googling “barred owl scream.” And when I searched for it, one result come up “owl that screams like a human.” Here it is below. Listen at 0:07.

If you think it’s terrifying too, please leave a comment because I think Ron thinks I am ridiculous for being so frightened.

***

And I have to give a quick Ruby update. She took a break from her eggs today and didn’t want to go back again. She flew over into the main chicken area and was just having a party with everyone else. I had to run her down in the chicken run after an hour of her party, which made her stress–and everyone stress. I honestly can’t believe I caught her again. She’s so fast! But she ran under a shrub and thought she was hidden from me, so I scooped her up. When I took her back to the eggs to see if she was going to get back on them (I was starting to think I was maybe going to have to give her eggs to Kate, who has also gone broody now), she went straight to them, wiggled her little self on them, and then screamed at me for getting too close when I checked her water. That chicken.

She’s on Day 4 of 21. Sigh.

It’s Weirdly Hot for May in Maine

Day 3 of 365

Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.

It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.

The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.

Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.

While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.

I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.

“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”

I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.

But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.

I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.

But I made Anna Maria’s life better.

And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.

***

While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!