A number of years ago, while visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden, I purchased a small tome about keeping a few ducks in your garden. Handily, it was called Keeping a Few Ducks in Your Garden. At the time, I didn’t actually have any ducks in my garden, but it seemed a good idea to purchase the booklet for future reference. The author, Francine Raymond, who kept, apparently, more than the “few” in the title in her own garden, claimed that their antics were a source of great amusement. This sounded promising.
Ten years passed between my buying the booklet, and actually acquiring ducks. I had been caring for a flock who had been abandoned at a local village pond, but had never brought any home except in cases where a brief hospital stay was necessary. I would put the injured duck in my loo for a for a few days until it recovered, at which time I returned it to the pond. It simply never occurred to me that I could have ducks in my garden.Then Boyfriend Duck developed a limp.
Boyfriend, and his slightly more imaginatively named mate, Ethel, had been abandoned together. Both Rouens, they’d been a mated pair for as long as I’d known them, and were actually getting on in years at the time Boyfriend started limping. I knew that area foxes and other predators would make a quick meal of him in his compromised condition, so I lobbied the husband to let me bring them home. Our back garden is surrounded by some quite high (and equally low) fencing; all that was needed was a pen to shut them in at night, and this, my handy hubby could easily build. Only, he didn’t actually want ducks in his garden.
Here’s the problem with marrying a Critter Lady: you can grumble all you want, but eventually, she’s going to get her way! And so I did. Hubs started constructing a pen based on my admittedly rather vague design requirements, and the swearing began soon after. In spite of it all, he produced a very nice pen in a short amount of time. The ducks arrived soon after.
They weren’t keen to have been uprooted. The garden was a new place with new smells and new routines to adapt to. They did an admirable job, however, and whether they realized it or not, their quality of life improved immeasurably, what with the big bowl of corn and grain feed, their own personal pond, also courtesy of the hubs, and a safe pen to sleep in at night. The thing was, though, that while they adapted to the surroundings just fine, they didn’t actually adapt to me. Never mind that I’d been feeding them every single day for nigh on ten years. Apparently, me in a different setting equaled an entirely different me, one they feared and avoided at all costs.
This vexed me. While I knew that I’d done the right thing in bringing them home to live with us, I felt bad that they now feared the one person that they would happily race to meet all those years they lived rough at the pond. (Did I mention that all the ducks I cared for were of the flightless domestic variety?) Obviously, the solution lay in acquiring another duck, a friendly duck who would show them that I wasn’t a horrible human being after all. I went online and found some Pekins for sale and then spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to get the hubs on board with the idea.
The ducks, the pen, and the pond were bad enough. But when I proposed driving two hours (one way) to pay good money (I ask you, is ten quid a lot to pay for a little bit of feathered joy?!) for another duck, it was simply too much for him to take. The swearing began almost immediately we pulled out onto the road. It continued the entire trip. It reached a fevered pitch when the newly-acquired Penny Pekin pooped in the critter carrier. The hubs was certain that the smell would take up residence in his car forever. Sometimes, he’s really quite whiny. In any case, Penny ultimately proved her worth by settling in and showing Boyfriend and Ethel the perks of humanity: soon, both Ethel and Boyfriend were following Penny’s lead and taking worms right out of my hand. The plan had worked, and the smell faded from the hubs’s car as I knew it would.
Flash forward a couple of years and both Boyfriend and Ethel have died; Boyfriend was attacked by I don’t know what, and Ethel – by then an OAP – died in her sleep. By this time, Penny had a new friend, another Pekin we named Daffy. Daffy had been found down at river’s edge by a couple of boys who thought they could convince mum to let them keep her. Mum was not impressed. As the known Critter Lady in my area, I received a call asking whether I would take the duck on, and as it was another female, I said yes. For a year’s time, the hubs and I both enjoyed the girls, and their antics were, indeed, a source of great amusement. Then I got a call from Patrice Mitchell.
Patrice and her husband Peter had taken in several gimpy drakes over the years. Once any male duck on the village pond developed a life-threatening limp, I’d ring Patrice. She never said no. She had ultimately fostered five or six ducks, although she was down to just two when she rang me: a Rouen I’d named Handsome, and a Black Swede I called Ducky. It was these two drakes she wished to speak to me about.
Peter Mitchell was dying. Patrice wouldn’t say the ‘d’ word, but it became clear during our conversation that that was the case. In his 70’s, battling Round Three of cancer, Peter didn’t have the energy to look after the ducks anymore, and neither did Patrice. Would I take them? she asked. Of course I would. I just didn’t tell the hubs that.
“Peter Mitchell is dying,” I told him that night over dinner. “Patrice called and asked whether we could take the two drakes.” I stopped talking then, and let the hubs chew on it.
“It would be the right thing to do,” he answered.
I rang Patrice and made arrangements to pick up the boys in two days’ time. In the meantime, the hubs had questions. He wondered whether the boys would get along with the girls. I said I thought they’d all get on just fine. I went so far as to say that I thought the boys would be too old to bother the girls much, come mating season. Golly, was I wrong!
When released from the critter carrier, both boys made a beeline for the girls, and behaved in such a rabidly pornographic manner that I almost blushed! They acted like two prisoners who’d just been released after many decades in gaol, which, when you think about it, they rather were. I assumed that when the novelty wore off, the ducks would settle down, but the drakes had different ideas, and pestered the girls to such a degree that the hubs and I found ourselves chasing after the boys and shooing them away on numerous occasions. It only worked for the short while we were in the garden; the minute we went back inside, they were at it again. The girls chastised me with a heartrendingly sad what have you done? look, and I felt awful.
Black Swede Ducky was the worst. He chased not only Penny off his turf, but her new mate Handsome (now renamed Gimpy) as well. In fact, Ducky spent the vast majority of his time being such an offensive arse that both the hubs and I quite disliked him.
“I don’t like Ducky!” he announced with a glare, “I wouldn’t miss him if he were gone!”
I looked at him askance. “Where would he go?” I asked by way of response
“We could have him euthanized,” he answered.
This seemed unfair: the only things technically wrong with Ducky were that he had a limp, and he was a complete arse. Neither of those seemed to me like euthanizable offenses. Thankfully, I recalled a fellow named Mark who took on unwanted ducks and geese. His pile featured a small lake, and plenty of room for his fowl to hang out. I had passed along to him several abandoned Pekins a few years back, and had kept his number in my mobile contacts under Mark Ducks. When I rang him, and said I had an abandoned drake in need of a home, he agreed to take Ducky off our hands.
I instructed the hubs – who’s such a blabbermouth that he makes Russell Brand seem like a monk who’s taken a vow of silence – not to say anything to Mark about why we were fobbing Ducky off on him. Mark rescued animals in need, not animals in need of an attitude adjustment. Naturally, my instructions either fell on deaf ears, or were forgotten entirely because, as we stood with Mark near the lake, the hubs mentioned the three ducks we still had at home. I would have kicked him into silence but Mark would have seen me do it, so I swiftly changed the direction of the conversation.
“How are the critters, Mark? It looks like you have fewer than you did the last time we were here!”
He chuckled. “Actually, I have more! The geese had babies!” I nodded in sympathy, then gave the hubs a sharp nudge, the kind that says let’s blow this pop stand before he catches on! We both heaved a sigh of relief as we headed home, happy in the knowledge that at last, our aggressive duck problems were over. Only, they weren’t.
Who knew that Gimpy would pick up where Ducky left off? Now boldly obnoxious, he chases Daffy continually, catching her by her neck feathers and throwing her to the ground, where he gives her a stomp and attempts to mount her. Given the degree of his limp, he rarely manages it. Still, it’s no fun watching Daffy get chased all over the garden, and the feathers on her neck never get a chance to grow back because Gimpy is so unrelenting. Unfortunately, having just availed ourselves of Mark’s good graces, we don’t feel that we can give him another duck anytime soon.
For lack of any better ideas, I’ve taken to sequestering Gimpy at the back of the pen come morning release time. Penny and Daffy make their way out and enjoy a few hours of Gimpy-free time in the garden while he gripes loudly from the pen. Don’t worry – I put a bucket of water in there with him. He’s just grumbling because he can’t get at the girls.
“You’re expendable!” I informed him recently as I let him out, “You’d make a great soup!” He raced out of the pen, made a beeline for the girls, and – I swear this is true – looked me right in the eye as he threw Daffy to the ground. He’s such an arse.