The integration of a duckling: saving the life of an orphan

For several hours this afternoon, when it was warm, our Secret Duck Farmer (SDF) integrated one orphan duckling with the hens on the pond. Sadly, one of our two ducklings in ICU died last night, but the other was vigorous and thriving. It had been in its box for two days, with food and water, at the SDF’s home.

We waited and waited and waited for just the right time—for one of the mothers to sit or swim close to the shore with her brood. The plan was to put the orphan on the shore and let it naturally rejoin whichever mother’s brood came by. While SDF sat patiently with the orphan in her hands, getting warmed, I kept people off the sidewalk (some were ticked off because they thought they had a right to walk by, but I explained to them why they needed to let things happen peacefully).  None of us were very optimistic, because the moms are skittish and we needed them to get very close to the SDF to pull this off.

Several times we came close and didn’t try, but then, all of a sudden, Honey swam by with a smallish brood (for her; most of today she’s had all the ducklings), and SDF gently placed the baby on the shore. It looked a bit dumbfounded, but then peeped a bit and the other ducklings turned around and joined it, and then Honey herself turned around and rejoined everybody, and shortly thereafter they all swam off—one big happy family. It’s all below. Duckling was put down 14 seconds in, and joins with Honey’s brood at 1:01. (You can see me in a red sweatshirt behind the SDF, keeping people away from the site.)

A life was saved!

We watched them for a long time thereafter trying to see if any duckling was slow, waterlogged, or bad at swimming. But they all looked healthy and we lost track of the orphan. Soon, both mothers were on the islands with their babies, most of them having survived temperatures at the freezing point last night.

We now have 18 ducklings, a good crop so far. But I saw another hen this morning, so perhaps we’ll have three broods. I’m a happy man even though, as the doctor told me last night, “Your ear was really messed up.”

The video isn’t of great quality because it’s taken from an enlarged section of the PondCam video, but I’ve asked for them to save the last 12 hours worth so we can have a better take.

h/t: Team Duck, the Secret Duck Farmer, and Nicole Reggia for the video taken from the On Botany Pond website.

42 Comments

  1. JezGrove
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to learn about the duckling that didn’t survive, but great to hear that the other one has rejoined the family on Botany Pond.

  2. Andrea Kenner
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry you lost one of them, but I’m glad the little orphan was able to find his or her family!

  3. Posted May 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Great news about saving one duckling. And, I hope your ear recovers rapidly.

  4. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Good work saving ducklings!

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    A life was saved!

    Whoever saves a single life saves the whole world.

  6. rickflick
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Just great!

  7. Posted May 9, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Good job by you and SDF.

  8. wonderer
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Honey swam by with a smallish brood (for her; most of today she’s had all the ducklings)…

    It’s great that all the ducklings survived the cold last night. I was concerned that one hen was going to end up with more ducklings than she could keep warm overnight.

    Great work, on the part of you and the SDF, to integrate tne ICU patient.

    All the pond drama considered, I’m amazed so many ducklings seem to be doing well. I feel bad for Dorothy though. It seems like even Wingman is taking sides against her getting ducklings back.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Wingman has always liked Honey best. Yesterday when she was on the south island with her ducklings, Wingman just floated right beside her in the water. It was really sweet. He reminds me of James Pond, Honey’s last handsome boyfriend.

  9. George
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Are there still separate broods of ducklings? Seems to be one big brood with some very adventurous ducklings. Granted no pondcam in the past for comparison but some of these ducklings, only a few days on the pond, like to go and explore on their own. They do speed back to join the rest. Not sure how relevant the different mothers are to them. One seems to be as good as the other. I thought Honey might be the one with more (or sometimes) all of the ducklings. Older, more experienced and pretty darn aggressive.

    I was hoping they would split up the ducklings last night for warmth. Not quite as cold as predicted. Out in the burbs, the forecast was for 28F (-2C) and 32F closer to the Lake. But no frost on the ground this morning so maybe above freezing at the pond.

    Did not watch that much of pondcam today. Did see Wingman fighting off some interloping drakes. Saw one hen swimming around forlornly on her own. I thought it was one of the mothers but it might have been the new arrival.

    Weather looks good for the coming week. Still a bit cooler than normal. But no frosts in the forecast. Supposed to get down to 48F (9C) tonight, 37F (3C) Sunday night but rising after that, By Wed, overnight low is forecast to be 52F (11C).

    I feel for Jerry. His ear is throbbing. Whenever you get cut in a place like an ear or finger where there are not a lot of blood vessels, the throbbing of the healing process is intense. But the Ceiling Cat will look after you.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      I’m doing well, actually. I never take post-op medication, even when I had my hernia operation last year, and I didn’t yesterday. But I tell you, when that damn needle went through my ear about 15 times yesterday (9 stitches, most of them double), it hurt like an SOB. And I was numbed up with a vial of Xylocaine, too. Ears are sensitive.

      But now I have no pain at all. The damn van Gogh hat comes off Monday morning, the stitches will dissolve, and I have a tele-med assessment on Thursday. (What do you suppose they’ll charge my insurance company for a quick telemed session?)

      The duck/duckling pairings are a huge mess. Sometimes Dorothy has half, sometimes only 1, sometimes 4, and sometimes about 7. Honey definitely is more aggressive and chases Dorothy, trying to abscond with her brood. But some ducklings usually go with Dorothy in these alteractions. I hope things will settle down over time. It’s heartbreaking to hear Dorothy quacking when she’s just had all her ducklings taken away. But then she gets a lot back again!

      • wonderer
        Posted May 9, 2020 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        It’s heartbreaking to hear Dorothy quacking when she’s just had all her ducklings taken away.

        I’ve wished I had audio, but I am glad to have been spared hearing that.

        One thing I have wondered, is how the hens get the chicks to come rushing in. A certain sort of quack?

        • SDF
          Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          The hens make very low noises to summon or direct the ducklings they also are very loud when sounding an alarm of a predator or other threat.

        • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          yep. They have different quacks for different things (“come here”, “get away”, “dog around”) and the babies seem to instinctively know them.

      • rickflick
        Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        I’ll be interested to see if this pattern changes. At some point, the ducklings might make a choice and keep to it. Then the arguments might subside.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Seems to me (and as Jerry pointed out yesterday) that in recent years, the broods hatched weeks apart, and so the size differences seemed to naturally help segregate them. It was very peaceful last year,

      • SDF
        Posted May 9, 2020 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        Last year the hens fought often and Honey would even chase ducklings from the other broods wanting only her brood to get food and attention. So far this year I have only seen the hens squabbling. Last year it is true that Anna’s ducklings were four weeks younger than Honey’s (Katie’s) and Daphne’s brood was another three weeks younger than Anna’s, so it was much easier to determine which duckling belonged to which hen for the most part.

        • Posted May 9, 2020 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

          Gosh, somehow I missed the squabbling of last year. It seemed relatively peaceful but then there was no web cam, just Jerry’s photos and videos and narratives.

  10. SDF
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Having had a pond side seat for a long time this afternoon. It is an interesting dynamic between the moms and the ducklings. The ducklings move seamlessly between the two moms. If one
    duckling or a couple of ducklings fall too far behind the other mother will slip into watching over the lone duck or ducklings. When Honey got into a fight with a marauding drake, in which she soundly beat him, Dorothy came and oversaw the entire brood. At one point Honey got off one island and about five ducklings were still basking in the sun and napping and didn’t hop in the water and follow, Dorothy came over and waited patiently until they got in the water and they stayed with her. While Honey is dominant there is a certain amount of co-parenting going on and the ducklings seem to be happy content and well looked after.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted May 9, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I find the interactions between the two moms and the ducklings quite fascinating. Wish I were there to see it unmediated by video.

      I’d read that if a duck mom finds a strange duckling near her brood, she’ll kill it, but since both females claim the brood, that’s not happening — even with the newcomer. And maybe they will learn to cooperate; after all, the females of some species of duck babysit.

      • wonderer
        Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if Dorothy is a daughter of Honey, making taking care of each other’s ducklings beneficial in evolutionary terms.

        • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

          Given that each hen is more related to her own offspring than to the other hen’s offspring, even if they’re sisters, it would make more sense to take care of your own preferentially, though of course your genes still benefit if you’re able to take care of a relative’s.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Maybe Dorothy is Honeys’ daughter from last season? There would be a genetic interest in some co-parenting then.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      There is an interesting question here as to how a duckling chooses a hen to follow. I’m guess it has little or nothing to do with whether the hen is its mother and more to do with proximity and the herd effect of other ducklings.

      • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re right about that, though it sure surprised me. There is, after all, supposed to be imprinting that starts in the egg.

  11. zackoz
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    These stories are hilarious – thanks for sharing them with us.

    As others have said, the autobiography should be well worth reading.

  12. Ruthann Richards
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks to all those involved in trying to see that the ducklings get a good start in life. I’m sorry one from the ICU didn’t make it, but watched the SDF reintegrate the other one(you have amazing patience!).

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I liked how the other ducklings came over to check out the little abandoned duck

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t that sweet. The orphan was peeping and the others came over to check it out. Also Honey, as moms are very attuned to duckling peeps.

      • SDF
        Posted May 9, 2020 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Honey was very concerned as the orphaned duckling was peeping for much of the hour+ time that it took for the integration to happen, but she was more concerned about the presence of a person at the edge of the pond and wouldn’t come close and would call her other ducklings back if they came close initially. Ducklings have multiple peeps that mean different things from “hey mom where are you?” to happiness.

    • Posted May 9, 2020 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that was the best.

  14. boudiccadylis
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Are you sure you want to go through another hatch? Seems these two have just about consumed most of your energy and now it’s taking on your well being. Just imagine another hatch.
    I admire the quiet patience of your companion when she introduced the late one. Good job.

    • SDF
      Posted May 9, 2020 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      PCC truly adores all ducklings and despite the toll it can take will always happily welcome more little ones to the pond. Last year it was 27 ducklings who started their lives at Botany Pond.

      • Posted May 9, 2020 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        Kudos to you too, SDF.

        • SDF
          Posted May 9, 2020 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

          Thank you! Much appreciated, it was an interesting ringside seat to have while watching everything unfold. I’ve spent hours at the pond before but I’m not sure I’ve ever watched as intently as I did today.

          • rickflick
            Posted May 9, 2020 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

            Lucky you. Must have been fun.

            • SDF
              Posted May 9, 2020 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

              Fun and little bit terrifying at the same time. None of us were certain we could pull it off and sitting quietly and waiting all of the negative possibilities were running through my head.

              • rickflick
                Posted May 10, 2020 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                I hadn’t thought of that. But all’s well that ends well, as the Bard said.

  15. Claudia Heilke
    Posted May 9, 2020 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    What do you mean MOST survived the freezing temperatures?!? Who didn’t?

    • Posted May 10, 2020 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      They ALL survived the freezing temperatures. Who said “most”? We didn’t lose a one!

    • wonderer
      Posted May 10, 2020 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      The one that spent the night in ICU didn’t *experience* the freezing temperatures. Since he or she was kept nice and toasty in the ICU

  16. Posted May 10, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I am very happy the duck odyssey seems to be having a (mostly) happy ending.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] The integration of a duckling: saving the life of an orphan — Why Evolution Is True […]

%d bloggers like this: