A rough night: Duck farming isn’t for sissies!

Well, it was quite a night last night.  I was home with little Sam, who turned out to be so demanding of affection that I couldn’t leave him in his warm box, as he’d peep incessantly, loudly, and piteously. After trying to settle him down with no success, I decided I had only one recourse: to sleep with him.  I wouldn’t have been able to sleep with that heartbreaking peeping.

It turned out that I didn’t get any sleep anyway.

I removed him from his box, put him in bed with me, and lay on my back while I either cupped his tiny body with my left hand or put him in my armpit. Of course I couldn’t sleep for fear of rolling over on the little guy, so I just zoned out for a while. He, on the other hand, slept soundly.

Then at 12:30 the phone rang. It was a call from the nearby suburb of Glen Ellyn: it was a man I’d met and given my phone number in case he saw a heron. Sure enough, he reported a heron in Botany Pond. Not only that, but he said he saw it strike in the water several times. (This nice man happened to be working late and watching the PondCam.)

I put Sam in his box, threw on my clothes, and drove to the pond (I can get there in a few minutes by car).

Sure enough, the Devil Bird was in the middle of the pond. I chased him away but then, fearful that he’d nabbed some ducklings, had to do a head count. Honey was on the island, and I called her to me for a midnight feeding. It was hard to count in the dark, but I took a flash photo and saw 17 glowing pairs of eyes in little heads.

Satisfied that there had been no carnage, I went home, retrieved Sam from his box, and went back to bed with him.  At about 2 a.m., the phone rang again. The heron was back. Lather, rinse, repeat: I sequestered Sam, came back to the pond, and once again I saw the Devil Bird, this time standing on the beach. I drove him away once more, and once more drove home. (You can watch the fun if you scroll through the last 12 hours on the PondCam.)

Finally, I arose at 4, showered, and drove Sam to work with me (I may spend the night here in case the heron reappears). He’s cuddled on my shoulder as I read my email at my desk, as he’d rejected his box once again. You can see that I’m an absolute sleepless wreck. But of course it’s delightful to commune with a wild mallard baby, and have it bond with me:

Either tonight or very early tomorrow, a rehabber will come by and retrieve the duckling; he’ll be taken to either a rehab center or to an experienced waterfowl rehabber. I will miss Sam terribly, of course, and suspect I’ll tear up when I say goodbye. I’ll wish him the best and hope he’ll grow up into a healthy hen or drake, one day winging its way southward. I saved him, at least for now, but there’s no place for him on Botany Pond, and I can’t have a house mallard!

I’m trying to write posts with the duckling on me, but it’s hard: I have to be horizontal and Sam must be secure. Right now I’m on the lab couch and Sam’s sleeping inside my shirt by the collar (see picture below taken with my laptop). In half an hour I must go downstairs to feed Honey and her brood. Duck farming ain’t easy!


  1. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Way to go duckling father!

  2. Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Wow, you are kicking ass! Hang in there. Hope you get some rest.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    You’re gonna need a rehabber yourself, boss, you don’t start gettin’ some sleep.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Since you now qualify as a full time duck farmer, you should get down to the local FSA office and file for your farm subsidy. Don’t let the rich farmers get all of it.

  5. Nicholas K.
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    It seems that for little Sam, you’re Mom!

  6. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I think you’ve found a duck for life.

  7. Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Good work, PCC.

  8. Muffy Ferro
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how you will part with that adorable little creature!

    • George
      Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      It helps that they stop being adorable and little.

  9. George
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    This post may be a mistake. Will probably trigger PTSD in Jerry. I thought the ducklings would be safe from the heron once they reached a certain size. Now I do not think the adult ducks are safe from the heron. I think herons prefer fish. Not that much meat on a duckling and all those nasty feathers to cough up.

    Steve Biro is a great wildlife photographer. He posted this pic of a heron yesterday. The size of the carp in its mouth is scary.

    • Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:25 am | Permalink


    • Posted May 22, 2020 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Not as bad as the evil thought that came unbidden to my mind about how to solve both of Jerry’s duck problems. I think I and going to have t serve a self imposed suspension

      • Posted May 22, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I and going to have t serve => I am going to have to serve

  10. Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I wonder if a heating pad, folded into a cave, will make the little duck less demanding.
    Or a bag with a cinch top, hanging from a loop and tucked into your shirt. Marsupial like.

  11. max blancke
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Around here, they sell day-old ducklings at the feed store for kids to buy and raise. I have never considered if those ducks were compatible with wild duck populations.

  12. kraeuterbutter
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Who would have thought that caring for one duckling is so sleep-stealing?

  13. Dean Reimer
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Not all heroes wear capes!

  14. Graham Lewis
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    My dad brought home a new-hatched gosling when I was a boy, and he spent his first night in a cardboard box beside my bed. I had to sleep with my arm in the box, or he would panic. He grew to a large and devoted friend., obviously bonded to me and my family.

  15. rickflick
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    That last pic tells it all.

  16. Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Is your shirt on inside out?

    • Posted May 21, 2020 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Many Hawaiian shirts are made with the inside of the fabric print on the outside. In fact, many Hawaiians don’t consider a cotton aloha shirt genuine unless it’s made inside out.

  17. Posted May 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you’re the duck whisperer. I love your dedication. And those photos are ADORABLE!!!!

  18. J Cook
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, no reason not to have a house duck. Years ago a friend and I kept a Peking duck named Clarence, pronounced Claaaa-rence. He waddled with us in downtown Oakland. Jumped in the car put his head out the window and was even house trained -mostly.
    But.. in CA there are laws about keeping wildlife domestically.

  19. Posted May 21, 2020 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Another reader suggested a heron decoy, and at this stage, I’m going to have to second it as well. Worth a try and better than losing sleep rather than having to hie it over to the pond in the wee hours.

    The decoys are currently unavailable on amazon but can likely be found at a garden centre, especially one selling pond stuff. https://www.amazon.com/ALVQW-Plastic-Sculptures-Ornament-Protectection/dp/B07TN8SX79

    • Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      I hope heron decoys work. My brother once put a pond in his backyard for koi. Herons and other such birds kept eating his expensive koi. So, he bought goldfish to put in with the koi. Heron liked ’em all. He tried nets and he tried putting cement blocks or rocks in the pond for the koi to hide in, around, under. Nothing worked. He finally gave up. Wish he’d known about the decoys, assuming they work.

      • Posted May 21, 2020 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        We had a large pond stocked with goldfish and the herons would make out with quite a few, even bigger than the one George showed above. We tried a decoy which might have worked for a short time, but our visiting herons came back to dine. I remember a neighbour a couple of houses down from us, finding a huge half-eaten goldfish atop his fancy cedar gazebo!

        Still, the decoy is worth a try.

        • Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

          They work but they must be repositioned regularly. If they are just left in the same spot, the herons will catch on.

    • Posted May 22, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Won’t it scare the ducks away?

      • Posted May 22, 2020 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        I had been wondering about that, but the pond is big enough for them to move off to one side if need be. A cheap plastic decoy might be worth a try.

        • Posted May 22, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          But surely the objective is to allow the ducks to have the run of the whole pond.

          • Posted May 23, 2020 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

            That would be ideal, but IMO whatever keeps them safe from the heron would be worth the hassle. If it doesn’t work, then of course the decoy could be ditched.

  20. Mark R.
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Man, tough night for sure. Pulled between your wee friend and duck enemy extraordinaire. I wonder if the heron watcher will be working late again. Hope so…even if you do get a decoy of some sort, you won’t be able to get it in time for tonight/tomorrow night. Stay vigilant, you’re doing great.

  21. Gail
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Bravo, Jerry! A genuine hero, for all you do for the ducks.
    (Five stars to votre coiffure nouvelle!)

  22. scruffycookie
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    You look totally exhausted! I hope you can get some rest along with Sam tonight. Best wishes and thank you for taking such good care of all the ducklings.

  23. aljones909
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I pray (in a secular way) that your efforts will give that little boy (or girl) a decent life.

  24. Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    You make an exceptional parent. I hope that neither you or the duckling suffer from the separation. But, you have so many others needing your attention. Can’t stop to rest too long. A parent’s work is never done until the young ones have matured enough to be self-sufficient. Then, they go off and you’ll be able to turn to other self-selected pursuits.

  25. openidname
    Posted May 21, 2020 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    The word “sissy” is homophobic.

    Just kidding.

  26. Dominic
    Posted May 22, 2020 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    awww – Jerry & duckling is such a sweetie! I bet you have not looked that dishevelled since student days!

  27. Andrea Kenner
    Posted May 22, 2020 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    You’re a good duck dad!

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