Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Duckling Update

Last night after supper I went with Gerald in the paddle boat on his evening routine of feeding the ducks and the catfish in Swallow Lake. He had seen a new batch of baby ducklings a couple days ago, and we wanted to check on them. So after his feeding chores, we started paddling around the lake. It is interesting that ducks seem to swim in family groups.

First we passed the mama duck with her one little duckling--all that remained out of the second duck nest that hatched beside our house. That mama started with at least eight baby ducklings. (It is difficult to count the tiny things all batched together and squirming.) One by one her family decreased as something ate or killed the little ones. Because of all the work required "mothering" the first 12 ducklings Gerald gathered on Mother's Day and put under a light, fed for weeks, gradually accoustomed to the lake water, etc., he had decided the let the next mama duck do her own thing and see how she fared caring for her babies. It is just as well, because before he had really had time to rescue them, she almost immediately had them down to the lake. She did not do as well as Gerald, for she was only able to save this one. Once Gerald had seen her swimming with a baby duckling on her back and a couple of others following. So we have always wandering if the surviving youngster was the one smart enough to crawl on mama's back.

At the far end of the lake on the shore, Gerald found "his" babies that he had worked so hard saving. Even though he had kept them penned until they were fairly large and strong, gradually acclimated them to the lake inside a pen and locked them up at night until they were stronger yet, and then released them on the island for safety's sake, several of them too had quickly been killed off. These 12 ducklings decreased to five. Now this was the duckling group to which Gerald added three baby goslings that brother Kieth had hatched for him in the incubator out of six deserted goose eggs. Soon after their release, Gerald found one of the goslings on the island with its head eaten off. Keith told him that an owl will do this. Shame on that owl! So out of the 12 ducklings and three baby geese, we have ended up with five strong young ducks and two geese who are now very tall and big. These eight travel together and think they are full-fledged siblings. Needless to say, they are very special to Gerald. I think they like him too.

Then at last we saw the newest mother swimming in the lake quite aways from the shore--and only one baby with her. Gerald's heart sank. But then he heard chirping from the shoreline. There in the water were three more tiny babies. Now mama duck had turned around and was coaxing them to come to her with her clucking. They were hesitant continuing to swim by the shore. Then with determination the three took off. And with great speed. It was amazing how quickly they swam out to the middle of the lake and joined their mother and more obedient sibling. We left happy watching the newest family swim off with four baby ducks (out of eight or so that hatched in one of the posted barrels) following their mother.

The survival of the fittest is not one of nature's most pleasant aspects to watch--at least not when it is baby ducks not surviving. Of course, if all the many nests of 12 or so eggs had fully hatched and fully survived, there would barely be room for any of them to swim on our lake. Maybe Mother Nature is kinder and wiser than I sometimes think.

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