Make Way For Ducklings

When the world was new and I was young, I ordered a dozen Rouen ducklings (resemble large mallards) from a game farm and began my love affair with ducks, blessed by its moments of joy and cursed with inevitable tragedy.  The box of downy babies was delivered directly to my door much earlier in the day than our mail normally comes as the mailman had wearied of their incessant peeping.  I took the new arrivals from the grateful carrier and transferred them to a corner of the family room under a warm light bulb.  My two oldest children, in grade school then, were delighted with their new playmates, but soon joined me in the discovery that these tiny creatures were incredibly messy.

The ducklings reveled in their food, spewing a mixture of feed and water on themselves, the box, and the walls.  This led to their speedy removal to an unoccupied rabbit hutch in an outbuilding.  Here they grew in sheltered bliss until we deemed them ready for life on the pond, unaware that our charges needed parental guidance.  The unchaperoned youngsters soon slipped under the fence and lost themselves in the neighbor’s grassy meadow.  We tracked their frantic quacks and carried them home, only to have them forget and stray again and again.

Sadly, unwary ducklings do not know to be on guard against snapping turtles, something their mama would have taught them.  By summer’s end, just two grown ducks remained and were fondly named Daphne and Darlene.  They were inseparable and divided their day between the cows and geese in the barnyard and forays to the pond.

The next spring Daphne and Darlene built a mutual nest inside a clump of gold-button tansy at the edge of the garden and patiently sat on the eggs that would never hatch.  It was time to find them a suitable spouse.  One fall evening “Don” arrived in my hubby’s pickup truck.

The girls took an instant liking to the handsome drake, and he to them, though he showed a slight preference for Darlene.  As spring neared again, we noticed a wild mallard drake observing our little band.  He would dash forward for a bite of grain at feeding time, only to be driven away by Don.  We pitied Dwayne, as he soon became known, and tossed a handful far to the side for him.  Besides the free lunch, it seemed that Dwayne was attracted to our Daphne, much to Don’s strong disapproval.

The small male was undeterred and eventually won acceptance, amusing us by his attempts to mate with Daphne, twice his size.  Persistence won out though.  That year the girls had separate nests, Darlene at the base of a bittersweet vine, while Daphne went back to the tansy.  Don and Dwayne bonded, swapping stories as they awaited imminent fatherhood.

The ducklings hatched in late spring and grew quickly.  All survived with excellent care from their mothers.  By fall we could see Dwayne’s influence on the flock.  His offspring were considerably smaller. It was a golden, happy time. Late afternoons we quacked loudly, calling our ducks for feeding.  Heads popped up from the seeding grass and they answered back then waddled single file behind Don, their noble leader.  If we were late with dinner, they gathered to complain about the lack of service and were not averse to heading up to the house to fetch us if necessary.

Autumn in all its’ splendor passed into a winter that was our most severe in years.  We tromped faithfully through the deep snow every day to scatter feed on the frozen pond.  Then one morning after fresh snowfall we could not find a single duck.  Our anxious calls came back to us empty on the wind…searching revealed spatters of blood and dog tracks in the snow, the silent witness to their grim fate.   Still, we hoped that some birds had escaped the attack and combed the neighborhood, finally locating a pair of Dwayne’s offspring.  Only the smaller ducks could fly well.  We had unwittingly fed the others up to be “sitting ducks,” an expression I understand too well now.  A week later Dwayne returned on his own, but it was a bleak time.  How empty the pond seemed without the gang.

That May, Betty, our lone remaining female, hatched a fuzzy brood.  Familiar quacks again filled the air and gladdened our spirits.  It just isn’t spring without ducklings.  ~

All of this took place eons ago, but we still have ducks on our pond and an ample flock fussy barnyard geese who make daily visits down to the water.  The small town of Dayton, Virginia, not far from us, has a lovely body of water called Silver Lake (the size of a large pond) and a stream that attracts so many ducks the town has installed a duck crossing sign.

*Pics of our farm and ducks, also my mom and dad’s ducks…it’s a family thing this love of ducks. But the top pic of Rouen ducks are not ours

*This story about ducklings is the one that really got me started in writing. It was ‘almost’ published in Southern Living Magazine and that editor gave me much encouragement about my writing, then she referred me to an editor at Progressive Farmer who accepted it and several more nonfiction pieces about rural life, but their free lance column got axed before publication.

21 responses to “Make Way For Ducklings

  1. Love this! We have ducks on our pond as well, and they come trooping up to eat the bird seed that the smaller birds throw out of our bird feeder. They returned about two weeks ago. Now we’ll have to be on the lookout for nest-building! It’s always exciting to watch the babies hatch, grow, and come back next year.


  2. We get so attached to our animals, even those on the grounds, don’t we? I would miss this if we lived in town.


  3. Beth,
    I love these photos. Your farm is beautiful. I love the ducks but of course I love all animals

    Walk in harmony,


  4. Thanks Melinda. The farm is getting very pretty with spring breaking forth.


  5. Thanks Melinda. The farm is getting very pretty with spring breaking forth.


  6. My daughter begs for ducklings every spring, and every spring I must explain that we live in suburbia and do not have a good place to pen them nor a pond for swimming and we have a dog and neighbors’ cats who roam and hunt…

    Cut story!


  7. What a cute stor, Beth. In Cincinnati, there was always files of ducks crossing the streets and I slowed down to let them go by. They were so cute but don’t let that fool you. A friend of us was attacked by a gang of geese or ducks–I am not an expert– and he fell under their attack and broke his arm.


    • Mona, it would have been geese, sometimes referred to as attack geese. Our barnyard variety are fussy but non-aggressive, however, the Chinese kind with the knob on their heads can be very aggressive. I was chased by them in Taiwan as a child. Ducks are benign friendly creatures.


  8. What a lovely post, Beth! Since we live quite close to Kentucky Lake, we often have ducks pop in for a visit and a snack underneath the birdfeeders. They’ll waddle around the yard a bit and then be on their merry way. I love to watch them. They’ve got such endearing personalities.


  9. What a beautiful account! I plan to get ducks this spring and have learned valuable info from your blog.


  10. You have such a beautiful way of showing us your life, Beth. What a wonderful description of your ducks and how they brought joy to you and your family. Thank you for a delightful read.


  11. Beth,

    Great post. We have a small lake behind the houses across our cul-de-sac. We have ducks pretty much year round. During migration north or south we have many more than usual. I have only ever seen one get run over by a car in the nearly twenty years we have lived here. Every year a duck will sit on eggs under our fireplace chimney. That is until this year. We have new neighbors who have been feeding the ducks on their property. Still the ducks bring the ducklings to our yard to eat whatever it is they eat in the grass. We have a tree that has excellent camouflage. It is completely surrounded by a large bush.



  12. Pingback: Make Way for Ducklings « Rosslyn Redux

  13. Pingback: Make Way for Ducklings » Rosslyn Redux

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