Sunday, March 19, 2006

Duck!

Duck duck duck! The people right next door have a duck who's nesting. She should've nested at our house, but she's still cute. I got a couple of pictures of her on her nest. I always think they look so cute sitting on the nest!







The first is from a slight distance, the second is a good bit closer up (though she still didn't get alarmed), and the third is, *snicker*, a bird's eye view. She's nesting right near a porch (as evidenced by the bricks) so if you just go and stand from the vantage point of the porch, you can get that kind of a view of her.

I think I should share a couple of my duck stories. I think it was two-thousand one, I was eleven years old, and we and the brothers were playing around with a neighbor. In a very safe, intelligent game, we were hitting tennis balls toward our house hoping to bounce them off the roof. I took a whack at one tennis ball, which flew and lodged itself in a bush. So I went over to get it, found it, and when in the area of that bush, I saw that there was a duck sitting on a nest.

My first instinct was to shout "HEY!! THERE'S A DUCK AND A NEST HERE!! COME LOOK!", but thankfully something held me back. I didn't say anything, but I just threw the tennis ball back to my brothers and friend and ran inside and told mom. We were both thrilled. I mean....a duck...with eggs...nesting here. How much cooler can it get?

I named her "Dear", and took to her like a duck to water. I apologize and will stop trying to make duck puns. Anyway, three or four times a day, I would take out some pieces of bread and cut them up and bring them out to her. I would always way over-estimate how much bread she would eat, so she would have only a few pieces and then let the blackbirds have the rest.

But as time went one, I just kept getting more attached to her. It was verging on obsessive. I would also put a dish of water out there, which I know she would occasionally drink from. On hot days, I would go out and take the house which she was conveniently situated near, turn it on very low, and sprinkle her with some water.

Everyone's heard the expression "like water off a ducks back". Water rolls of a ducks back because their feathers have oil in them. Hence, the water would ball up instead of soaking her. Well, I would spray her with the hose, the water drops would become droplets on her back, and then she would just drink them up off her back in the cutest way imaginable.

As a result of my feeding her and giving her drink, she never had to get off her nest which is a huge plus! However, some passionate males would frequently come and..bother her. From inside the house, I would hear her quacking in a distinct manner. I would run outside and chase off the oppressive duck.

Well, what with that, feeding her, and giving her water, a great bond of trust grew around us. It's so interesting to think that creatures with the simple intelligence of a duck can learn to trust. She did, and it was one of the best feelings I had all my life! A duck with eggs trusted me! She had, by the way, fourteen eggs, which is a sizeable brood.

I will never, as long as I live, forget the day when I was getting dressed for a baseball game, came downstairs, and peered out the windows at either sides of the door. What did I see but Dear standing there, looking frustrated. I immediately went outside and, it should be noted, dear stood no more than a foot away from me. Go outside and try and pick up a duck...they'll run away because they're afraid. But such trust had grown up around me and Dear that she was totally comfortable standing right near me.

I chased off the male ducks, and told her "it's okay - you can go back to your nest now." Just like that, she went.

I really liked having her around, and if she had been around much longer, it would have gotten to the point where I would've grabbed a pillow and blanket and slept out there right near the nest.

Then comes Holy Saturday evening. I go out to drop off the usual way-too-much food and what do I hear but small whistles and a sound, every now and again, of eggs cracking slowly. I look in, and sure enough, Dear's ducklings are hatching.

I dropped the food and ran inside to tell mom. We practically all of us came outside to look at her. We imagined her saying in duck voice "ok, one at a time, and don't look for too long because there's someone behind you."

All fourteen of her eggs hatched out beautiful ducklings. All fourteen! That's pretty rare...usually, especially with a large brrod, one or two of the eggs will just not form properly. But not with my duck...I made sure she didn't need to constantly get off the nest and that contributed greatly to a rare achievement of hatching all the eggs.

Mom and I will never forget how happy and proud she looked with all her eggs hatching beneath her and the odd duckling head and tiny little bill poking out from under her breast to see what this world looked like. I know it probably doesn't make any sense, because ducks can't exactly smile with those bills, but it still seemed as if she was smiling. I don't know..maybe it was our being so proud of her that it spilled over and made it look like she was proud too.

When eggs start to hatch, the mother will wait an additional twenty-four hours to give the other eggs a chance to hatch. After that she leaves. Here's the deal though: I thought she was going to take them to a nearby canal to teach them to be ducks, and then come back to sleep in the nest at our house every night for at least a little while. Well, I was very wrong. After the ducklings have hatched, they don't come back to the nest...there's really no purpose to.

She left on Easter Sunday, which is very fitting. But I, being only eleven and under the misapprehension that they would come back, did not take the fact that she had left well. I was absolutely heartbroken, as a matter of fact. It took me a few days to get over it, but I did so.

I will never forget the joyous month I spent with Dear and her troop of fourteen I helped her hatch. Maybe some of her ducklings are laying eggs right now. Maybe the duck nesting just next door is one of Dear's offspring. But regardless, I'll always take joy in that memory.

Now fastforward one year. I'm twelve. Bella is riding around on her bike and chances to spot a duck nesting in a bush near the road across the street. She comes in and tells me, I go over, and we decide to name her "Daisy". Since she is nesting on property that is not ours, I can't be quite as close to the mother duck as I would prefer to be (you know, for purposes of running off male ducks, spraying her with water on hot days, stuff like that), but I still cut up bread and bring it over to her.

As usual, I cut up to much and the blackbirds eat the lion's share of it, but whatever. We found her when she was probably about halfway through nesting, so there isn't quite as much to tell.

But the day eventually came. It was a sunny, warm but mild Monday, and Daisy's eggs are hatching. I go through the joy of it once more. But this year has a twist.

It's common knowledge that you don't mess with the babies if you want to avoid having an eye or two pecked out by an enraged mother. But this was different, apparently. I guess in the two weeks (give or take) that I found her, she learned to trust me to. Either way, it's Monday morning and her eggs are hatching. Some of the ducklings are already out by this time and have dried off on mommy. I look into the bush where she's nesting, and something very surprising happens. She let's one of the young wander a few steps (or waddles) from the nest. This is very odd indeed! Even if it was only a matter of inches, mother's don't like letting their young just wander. But something weirder is about to happen.

I figure it will be a long time before I get this chance again. A thought just comes into my head: "pick the duckling up." Now by rights, Daisy would quack like the end of the world and come out and peck me to death if I tried to pick up one of her babies. But, again, this was different.

I reach my arm in very slowly, go for the duckling, grab some of the down on his tiny little back, and pick him up out of the bush. Picking him up by his down must've hurt, so I'm sorry for the little fellow. As I'm lifting him up, he waddles his webbies thinking "woooow...what'a this all about?"

Then I put him down in my hand, and he is the cutest thing you could possibly imagine. Daisy doesn't mind one bit. For whatever reason, she trusted me to hold a baby of hers. I took advantage of the trust, and held him adoringly. He was simply the cutest thing! I'm sorry, I know this is uncharacteristic of me, but I have a huge soft spot for ducks and rabbits.

I hold the cute little duckling for a little while, and then I put him back with his mommy, who takes him back as if nothing strange and out of the ordinary had just happened. These ducklings, by the way, were Mallard ducklings, so this is what they looked like. Cutest things in the world!

I'll never forget the memory of Dear and Daisy. They were lights in two very dark years for me, and are a source of happy and relaxing thoughts even to today.