Jemima Puddleduck and Flower Daisy came into our lives one morning near Easter when a tiny little girl (who is now a lean and limber almost-tween) wriggled with excitement en route to Orscheln Farm & Home. We’d checked with some family farms, and none had ducklings ready to go given the holiday.
We found the “straight run” (meaning, nobody was vouching for their gender) of three-day old duckies bustling around under heat lamps, and we loaded up all the requisite items (heat lamp, feeder, waterer) along with our two (supposed) gals. Sophie held them on the way home, and they spent a good amount of time during their early lives in our bathroom. That was not that long-suffering bathroom’s very best time period in terms of being full of delightful scents and attractive to the eye. In fact, it’s still getting to that point, but I digress.
My sister (“Ain’t Jo”) was still in college, and was looking forward to seeing our new pets in a few months, but our deep duck research indicated that they would look like adult ducks by the time she visited. Given all our reading, we were practically fowl experts. Our gals were Pekin ducks – they would grow into lovely, white-feathered, orangey-beaked adults with curly white tail feathers.
As lovely as they appeared, they were a bit lacking upstairs. We often joked that they shared one brain, partially because they did everything in sync. Ducks are tremendously social, we learned – they moved around the yard as one, cocked their heads in the same direction at the same time and often made the exact same movement without time delay, as though one didn’t do it and cause the other to think “that’s a good idea!” but rather that they had the same thought together.
We used to joke about our cheap pets – they were about $3 each, plus a giant bag of dried corn once or twice a year. They mostly foraged, and while they had a water trough, they were surprisingly content – although ducks love the water, they are just as happy wandering around hunting and gathering. We would laugh, though, when we saw them standing in the middle of the yard during a gully washer. They were content in the winter no matter the weather, and in January 2011 we saw just their beaks above two feet of snow in the backyard – but when we opened the back door they jumped up and were clearly fine, just burrowed deep.
While we originally got the ducks as natural pest control, they were great entertainment. They did a wonderful job of keeping the yard groomed, and tackled slugs and (hurray!) Japanese beetles with a vengeance, almost as though they were united with me in my gardening aspirations and keeping a watchful eye on my plants when I could not. The backyard was lush, if a bit poopy and feathery, during their tenure. Their were certainly missteps – once we were on the waiting list for ages and finally received our beautiful Doyle’s Thornless Blackberries and planted them enthusiastically only to find weeks later that the ducks ate the shoots we had so graciously planted for their enjoyment. We were livid… until the hardy blackberries re-emerged. They now produce consistently, and the garden area has since been fenced off to avoid further confusion.
The gals performed duck ballet for our amusement – each standing on one leg and leaning forward, other leg extended behind them and wings spread. It was like a yoga move to recenter themselves, and it never failed to crack us up. My sister (age: a quarter century) and the other neighborhood kids delighted in chasing the ducks around the backyard while flapping her arms and quacking at them. Seriously – it was funny every time.
We lost the gals this last week – first Flower Daisy suddenly appeared ill and was gone overnight, and then Jemima – who had looked healthy – followed a few days later. Sophie was exceptionally upset – these were the pets who followed her around the yard pretending not to like her but sticking with her every move. They would run from her when she was near them, but then when she turned her back they would follow, alternately with enthusiasm and sometimes with a bit of pretend nipping and chasing, as though they would show her who was boss. I don’t know that we’ll get ducks again anytime soon, although we loved having them. It seems almost as though it was one of those special things meant to experience and remember but not necessarily to replicate too soon. Rest in peace, gals.