Miss Bee and I are staying with Grandma and Granddad again, here in the Valley of the Ducks … Grandma and Granddad maintain a little flock of very domesticated Muscovys.
We’ve long known that ducks have a lot going for them – cute, quacky, lovable, every baby’s first word (just ask Miss Bee and the glow bug).
What I didn’t know about ducks – at least the ones that live here – is that they’re hopeless mothers! Forget where you stand on cry-it-out, or putting a child in daycare, or the ‘naughty step’ – these ladies take the cake! I’ve seen ducklings swimming around in circles by themselves, peeping wildly, while their mum was off half a paddock away with the munchies. I’ve seen one scrabble up the hill – just ‘sploring, just casual – and struggle for a long time to find his way back to his sibs, while his mum took a leisurely stroll in the other direction. I’ve seen this same mother peck at her little ducklings in pure malice for nothing more than getting in between her and some bug she was eyeing up for a snack!
Since Grandma and Granddad introduced a male to their little harem of three a while ago, brood after brood of ducklings has appeared in the valley. GDP (gross duckling product) has been estimated at 55 souls all in all … and how many have survived? Readers, I’m sorry to have to tell you: TWO.
Weasels and other introduced pests are suspected killers. A few have been carried off by extreme weather. Alarmingly, some were sucked down a highly sophisticated drain system Granddad constructed in their purpose-built pond, and didn’t make it alive out the other end, a couple of metres downstream (a smaller, luckier group did, and were presumably exhilarated by the ride).
The fact is, most of the time it’s the sheer neglect that can be blamed: in this case, Old Mother Duck really doesn’t give a … Ahem.
But then – I guess this is how it’s supposed to be? If every brood of ducklings everywhere survived entirely, ducks would rapidly achieve world domination, right? (What a thought! But Miss Bee, for one, would roll with it.) They breed often, and when they do there are many eggs to one mother, and yet populations remain pretty stable – do the math. Perhaps it just seems particularly brutal when you’re witnessing it as we are at close range.
It gives a particularly sinister meaning to that old favourite, Five Little Ducks. You know:
Five little ducks went out one day
Over the hills and far away
Mother duck said “Quack quack quack quack”
But only four little ducks came back.
I always thought that Mother Duck’s quacking could be translated as ‘Where are you my darlings? Come home!’ But I think more realistically it’s ‘Terrible weather we’re having … La la la … I think I might fancy a nice big juicy worm for my dinner tonight … must remember to MySky Kourtney and Kim Take New York … Babies? What babies?’
My suggestion to Granddad was to take away the male, and then at least, for the love of God, we wouldn’t have to watch … but Granddad, that sentimental old soul, disagrees. He is currently nursing a couple of the all-but-orphans to adulthood by himself, in an old possum trap custom-modified on the front lawn. I hope to keep you updated.