Island Life: On Not Acquiring Ducks

Right outside the front door of our house–well, across a little stretch of lawn, fifteen or twenty feet maybe–we have a pond. It was one of the many things we fell in love with when we first saw the house. We still love it. It’s gorgeous, it’s soothing, it’s a marvelous place to sit in our weathered old Adirondack chairs and enjoy morning coffee or evening cocktails.

Occasionally, wild ducks come and visit our pond. Usually a pair of mallards, but sometimes more exotic fowl: hooded mergansers, wood ducks, and once even a bufflehead. They are very shy, these wild ducks. If we step outside, they QUACK QUACK QUACK in great distress and fly away, wings beating madly, water droplets scattering everywhere.

We had a fellow here the other day to talk about moving our propane tank from the faaaaaar reaches of the back of the house to a much more convenient spot at the front of the house (another story, which perhaps I will tell you someday, it’s not important now). Anyway Mark was out discussing the job with him, and the fellow admired our pond. Mark mentioned the very shy wild ducks that we enjoy so much, and the fellow said, “Why don’t you get some domestic ducks? They’ll stick around, and they’ll even eat some of that duckweed.”

Oh! What an idea! Ducks who would stay! Ducks we could name. Ducks who might produce eggs. Ducks who might produce…

DUCKLINGS!!!!

Ahem. Suffice it to say, we got kind of excited about the thought. And when I say “we”, I am pretty much meaning “I”.


I feel like I should clarify at this point Mark’s position toward pets, livestock, any other living creatures that aren’t plants (or invertebrates) with whom we share our home and grounds. And that position is: No. We don’t have a cat, or a dog, or a hamster, or a canary, or even, these days, guppies. The only animals that live here are the ones we don’t have any control over–the deer who patrol the fences, looking to get in and eat the garden. The voles who tunnel underground, and eat the garden. The slugs who–well, you get the idea.

I don’t know many other folks, particularly out here in the country, who don’t have pets or livestock of any kind. A few, yes; but we are definitely in the minority here.

If it were me alone, I would have a cat. I had cats most of my life; I had a beloved cat who was My Cat all seventeen and a half years of her mad, loving, crazy, furry, psychotic life. When she died, I intended to get another cat. Instead, I got a divorce, and moved to an apartment; I then planned to get a cat when I bought a house.

By the time I bought the house, I had met Mark, who told me that of course I should get a cat if I wanted to, he entirely supported that–but that he wouldn’t be able to live in a house where cats lived, because allergies; and he certainly wouldn’t be able to sleep in a bed where a cat slept.

So. Well. I made my choice, and I’m entirely happy with it, though I do tease Mark that he only prevailed over a theoretical cat, not an actual cat.


Anyway, the other day, when Mark came in after talking to the propane tank fellow and told me about the idea of getting domestic ducks–well, I got super excited. I immediately began envisioning my little herd of ducks, which would each have their own personalities and adorable quirks, and the marvelous things I would make with huge delicious duck eggs, and yes of course the adorable DUCKLINGS that would surely come along in the bargain…

But we are grownups, and we do our due diligence, so after I calmed down, I reached out to a local friend who has ducks and asked her what’s involved, what do I need to know, what did she think?

“Well,” she said, diplomatically, “you certainly could get domestic ducks. But, if you don’t put netting over the whole pond, you are going to lose ducks to the birds of prey.”

Hmm, yes, good point. We do also get visited by owls, and great blue herons, and bald eagles…

“Domestic ducks aren’t good flyers, so it’s hard for them to escape. Ducks will also get things pretty muddy and the water will turn the color of whatever the bottom of your pond looks like because they constantly poke and prod at the bottom to eat.”

Hmm. A net over the lovely pond; the lovely pond looking all muddy and churned up…

“They also poop A LOT.”

Hmm.

“Personally, I don’t think you guys would enjoy what they would do to your pond and garden.”

“Yeah, probably not,” I said, with a sigh.

“And that’s before taking into account the raccoons and otters,” she added. “You’ll have to build them a shelter and shut them in every night.”

Ugh.

“What’s great about wild ducks,” she pointed out, “is that they come and go. One or two, and then they’re gone again.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Wild ducks are the BEST.” And so my imaginary flock of charming and personable ducks flew away out of my mind, wings flapping madly, droplets flying, QUACK QUACK QUACK.

“You’re welcome for being a buzzkill,” my friend said, wisely. And then we made plans to get together and make raspberry curd from herduck eggs and fresh raspberries, in a few weeks when she’s fully vaccinated.


So animal-less we remain, except for our tiny aquarium of shrimp and snails. And the wildlife outside, both welcome and invasive.

Oh but see that orange dab in the photo at the top of this post, the one that looks like a lens effect? That’s a goldfish! Our lovely pond has a school of goldfish, bright and beautiful, shy and spooky. They love to bask in the sun, so we see a little more of them these days, as the weather improves. They’re a fine ornament to morning coffee-time or evening cocktail hour.

Even if they don’t have names or quirky, entertaining personalities. Or eggs for us.

Or ducklings.

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About Shannon Page

Shannon Page is a Pacific Northwest author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include The Queen and The Tower and A Sword in The Sun, the first two books in The Nightcraft Quartet; novel Eel River; story collection Eastlick and Other Stories; personal essay collection I Was a Trophy Wife; Orcas Intrigue, Orcas Intruder, and Orcas Investigation, the first three books in the cozy mystery series The Chameleon Chronicles, in collaboration with Karen G. Berry under the pen name Laura Gayle; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014, and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Forthcoming books include Nightcraft books three and four; a sequel to Our Lady; and more Orcas mysteries. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She practices yoga, gardens, and has no tattoos.

Comments

Island Life: On Not Acquiring Ducks — 5 Comments

  1. Ducks make a lot of mess, and their ponds tend to need cleaning out on a regular basis, from what I’ve heard. Probably a wise decision to keep your pretty pond for the wildlife!

    If you want your own (salmonella-free) eggs, and your garden has room for a smallish enclosure, you could keep some small chickens.
    The smaller bamtam chickens need about 1 square meter of room per chicken, and you need to keep at least three together, for company. 3 square meters for the run plus a small night shelter coop with laying boxes and a level perch for the night might be do-able, maybe in the old propane-tank spot if you need to move that? They need some sun and shade both.
    Roofed over with chicken wire or something like those transparent wavy roofing plates they will still get enough sunlight and you needn’t be afraid of predatory birds.

    I used to keep 3 Dutch bantam hens in my little urban garden in a coop like that (no roosters allowed within the city because of noise ordinances).

    In summer, when all the plants were well-grown, I could let them forage in my fenced garden while I was working in the garden myself, until one flew over the fence and escaped twice.
    Probably you’ld better not let them forage outside their protected run unsupervised if there are a lot of predators, though they are good at hiding in dense planting if scared. They used to run semi-wild around Dutch farmyards on old 17th-18th century paintings, so they are fairly hardy and capable of taking care of themselves; better than a lot of more specialised chicken breeds can.
    You also can’t let them forage in your garden in (early) spring, or they’ll dig up all your seedlings and young plants.

    But even while they are in their coop they make a cheery murmuring when you’re around, and I loved the eggs they laid.
    In summer they lay a lot; if you don’t wash off the protective coating they’ll keep, even outside the refrigerator, for three weeks. As your chicks are not held in egg factory farms you can keep them healthy and salmonella free, which means you don’t have to wash off the protective layer they have fresh from the hen. Just wash off any dirt, but if your hens are healthy there’s no need to scrub them.
    The eggs are about half the size of regular European hen’s eggs (standard US eggs may be larger) – substituting 2 for 1 in my recipes worked well. I found them more flavorful, and the proportion of yellow to white is slightly higher (a bit less white).
    No eggs in winter, though, unless you trick them with extra heat and light into not realising it’s winter. I didn’t, I just kept a defrosting heating element in their water, and in the coldest parts of winter gave them a good thick layer of hay in their night coop to burrow into.

    I built my own coop-and-run, floored with simple pavers with about 4 inches of sand on top, kept in with brick edging, and a chickenwire cage built on top of that edging. As it’s so rainy here in Holland, I roofed the whole run with transparent panels. The night coop and nesting boxes were raised so their food and water stations were sheltered in the shade below. The pavingstone floor and glued-on brick edging meant they couldn’t dig their way out, and foxes couldn’t dig their way in easily.

    They are very easy to care for, unless you choose a type of chicken that has feathery legs. Those need a lot of care.

    • Ah yes, I should have mentioned chickens! We’ve been Not Acquiring Chickens for years now, alas, even beginning when we lived in Portland and a lot of folks kept chickens in their yards even in the city (which allows up to three). And for many of the same reasons–needing to protect them from predators, wanting to keep the garden unmolested. Somehow I imagined that ducks would be different…sadly, apparently, not different enough. 🙂 Bantams sound lovely though. I think it was bantams that my grandmother kept in Kensington, California (in the foothills above San Francisco Bay) when I was a child. The hens hung out on the porch and often had the run of the house. Beautiful silky birds.

  2. Shannon, you got good advice. So hard that you can’t have a cat, but husband’s health comes first. I have friends, one with terrible allergies, who have now their second hairless cat and love them. They look a bit like Yoda….

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