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by Caroline Downs

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Doing my part for the fall duck flight . . .

Posted 8/27/13 (Tue)

If you read last week’s news release about the summer duck brood survey from the ND Game & Fish Department, you’ll see the fall duck flight is expected to be down from last year, but similar to the “good fall flights” that took place from 2007 to 2011.

I am doing my part to ensure that happens, despite the smell and mess involved.

Because we have chickens and turkeys, people assume we can handle ducks, especially orphans that show up in ditches and yards after the first hatch.

So we’ve done what we can through the years to raise and release the mallards and pintails that farmers and local residents have brought to us. We haven’t always been successful--ducklings are escape artists, vulnerable to predators and bullying from other birds--but we’ve learned a lot.

Like once ducklings discover a source of feed, they devour it.

Like any assumption about ducklings being clean fluffballs evaporates the first time you change water they have mucked up with filth worse than anything produced by any other animal, including cattle and pigs.

Like no matter how small or large the space they are provided and no matter how much dry bedding is used in that space, ducklings can transform the entire area into a marsh within 24 hours.

Perhaps you can sense my lack of passion for the duck business.

However, I cannot turn my back on stray ducklings that appear because for all the mess and stink, they are defenseless.

And I just like ducks, which brings me to my latest responsibility.

Nearly a month ago, after a summer rain, the young dog ambled over to a full puddle in the driveway partly obscured by weeds (yes, I needed to mow). I called her back, preferring she drank clean water, but she froze in place.

I called again, then noticed she was captivated by seven yellow and brown ducklings, paddling in a tight clutch across the puddle.

That observation set off a series of events, starting with both dogs being confined in the house. We searched the ditches and yard, but saw no sign of a hen, alive or dead.

Our best guess is that with the excess traffic from road construction this summer, the hen and majority of her brood were split up as she marched them from a nest across the paved county road on her way to water. She probably continued on with one or two ducklings in tow, while the rest waddled into our lives later.

We want to preserve the wild instinct of the ducklings, so the husband did his best to shepherd the brood to our slough from a distance so they wouldn’t imprint on him. They were headed to big water and cattails, and once they left the puddle, they continued in a mostly straight line.

For about 30 more feet, until they reached the quonset.

The husband nudged them around the steel behemoth and beyond, but they kept circling back like the quonset was their mothership.

After 45 minutes, we bowed to the inevitable. The husband scooped all seven into his hands (that’s how tiny blue-winged teal ducklings are) and deposited them in temporary quarters, a formerly dry stock tank.

Heat lamp, drinking water, feed, grass clippings, now a shallow pan of water for paddling--these teal have it made and keep growing, oblivious to the odor and mess they create in the process.

We clean their space, replenish supplies and watch for feather development so they can be released  SOON to join hundreds of other ducks summering in our slough.

Anything for the ducks, I suppose. Maybe I’ll get some good compost out of this venture.