ON DUCK PARENTING, AND HUEY

When all else fails, there are ducks.  Everyone likes ducks. Well, not Elmer Fudd, but everyone else.  And let’s face it, Daffy is a pain in the ass.

I’m trying to come up with something, but I’ve been knee deep in the Civil War these days and haven’t been paying attention.  There are the debates, which provide good comic material (Marianne Williamson is comedy gold), but I really don’t care about it much until after the field thins out, and besides, this blog has a no-politics rule (admittedly it is a bit loose), and no one comes here for politics anyway.

This morning, while watching Jenna and Willie talk to the Queer Eye fellows, I kept trying to think of something to write. Nothing. The newspaper? Nothing. My notebooks? Only some jokes of questionable taste that I don’t care to share on this PG-13-rated site. Listening to old Dead shows?  Nothing.

Then, along came Huey.

huey1
Huey, the lone duckling. Note the stain in the background from when he relieved himself while eating. Ducklings are cute, but disgusting.

Of course he’s not really named Huey, although maybe that is his name now, but that brings up the fact that while I commune regularly with mallards, I can’t tell their gender until the feathers change when they’re around a year old and the males get that emerald green head and white neck ring. Beautiful.

duckneckring
Adolescent mallard getting his distinctive head and neck markings. Either that, or an old mallard going bald. I’m betting on the first one.

Just imagine, if you will, if human males had that happen at puberty.

The problem is that Huey is part of a… pride?  Gaggle?  Brood? None of the above.  A group of ducks or ducklings can be called a flock, brace, raft, team or paddling. Thanks, internet.  I’ll go with a paddling. Team is nice but too sporty.

Anyway, since living in this community the past 15 months with ducks, fish, turtles and the occasional bird of prey, we’ve had about 4 or so new paddlings walk by our patio trailing their mother.  The first group became quite comfortable and trusting and would actually try to eat my toes.  They grew up and now they are big ducks! And thank goodness they don’t want to eat my toes anymore.

The tough part is what I call “the count.”  Every day they come by, I count to see if they are still all there.  There is always one smaller duck in the paddling, and sadly, they’re usually the first to go by predator.  There are some cats around as well as hawks.

Nothing worse than picturing the poor little duckling waddling over the green grass after a nice snack, heading toward the water, only to be snatched up by a red-tailed hawk diving at 100 miles per hour.  Darwin happens.

The other thing that happens is you get attached to the little bastards and it’s sad when they disappear, but that’s why they often have as many as 10 ducklings in a paddling. You’re going to lose a few.  10 is more like a raft, actually, a raft made out of tiny duck heads.

duckpatio1
The current paddling of 6, little Huey on the left.

This current group is 6 and their mom seems to be very good at keeping them in line and out of harm’s way.  So it was with great consternation that Huey came by and looked in the window.  He/she was all alone.  The little one. Looking for its mother. So, I gave the kid some quinoa and water.  I also looked for his siblings and mom.  They were nowhere to be found.

duckmom
This one’s a good mother. Vigilant. “Hey, you lookin’ at my kid?”

After a bit, he waddled off over the grass that is just about the same height as he is, tweeting (the chirp like birds when little) “mom?  Mom?  Dewey?  Louie?”  Hope he finds his family.

And that’s the problem. Now, every time there’s a new brace, or padding, or raft, or whatever, I start counting and when the number goes down, I’m sad.

Did I mention that I’ve given up eating duck?  And I like duck!  Cassoulet? A l’orange? Curry!

duck al orange
Ooops. Sorry!

The last mother duck was a terrible mother.  This was the worst of all. At first, Kiki and I were very pleased to see 10 little babies following her in a straight line or moving as what I like to call a “duck cloud,” like a single organism over the grass.  They were fun.

Then, they started to disappear. In the past, the disappearing would usually be spread out over many days or even weeks. You know, Darwinian thinning of the flock.  But this was like they were disappearing by the hour.  Hawk?  Cat?  No. Bad duck mother.

I don’t like to criticize anyone’s parenting, but if there was a DFS (Duck Family Services), she’d lose these kids to a foster duck.  She left them alone, lost them, and even went off having wild sex parties with the other mallards (PG-13), according to one unnamed source.  You should see it around here when they’re getting randy, it’s complete chaos!

duckmatingseason
The dangers of internet research: I can’t unsee this, and now neither can you. Menage a’ duck? She’s so bored, she’s eating.

Later, when she came by with the 5 remaining potential victims, I noticed that her head wasn’t rounded at the top like the other ducks.  She had a flat back of the head.

Wow.  Duck birth defects? Injury?  Who ever thinks of this? Me, that’s who.

She clearly had either a condition or an injury that flattened what little walnut-sized waterfowl brain she had in the first place, and this made her very stupid, at least for a duck (ducks are already very none too smart), and an awful mother to boot.  What happened to the other 5? Let’s just say, no one knows… (ominous music plays).

So what have we learned here besides the fact that I have too much free time on my hands, both to feed, observe and grow attached to ducks, and then to write about it?  I’m not sure.  Let me think.  Here’s some duck video to watch while I contemplate.  Huey is the first to the water dish.  Dewey, Louie, Stewie, Fooey and Gary round out the raft. Gary doesn’t rhyme, you say?  That’s all right.  We call him Baba Booey.

Well, we learned what to call a group of ducklings and now you can impress your friends with this knowledge next time you take a walk around a pond or lake.  Yes.  And also, that while it’s fun to observe and commune with nature and animals, this leads to attachment and occasional sadness. But that’s okay because it’s part of the experience.

And finally, we’ve learned that being stupid is a bad trait for a parent, and yet, there’s just no way to stop the stupid from procreating, but there still might be hope for their paddling.

As I cut and paste this text onto my post, the entire paddling returned, with Huey in the lead, followed by his 5 sibs and mom.  Yes, Huey may be little, but he’s one tough bird.

And now, the ingrate is busting my chops for his third helping of quinoa today.

huey2

I’m pretty certain there are no duck references in Smoking in Bed.  I just wasn’t a duck person when writing that.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, though.  It would be great if you would read it. For me and for you.  Seriously, 414 pages of entertainment at your fingertips! Rated R.

So, happy Hump Day everyone!  Still ½ of the summer left.  Get outside!

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