A few days ago, it was noticed that one of the ducklings had gone missing.
Because a feral cat had been sighted slinking near the pond over the past few days, I assumed that it was the culprit, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m not really a big fan of feral cats.
So let’s just say that things could have gotten interesting for the local felines.
About two days after the duckling clutch had been reported to have been reduced to trio, I went out with Miley for an evening photo shoot. It was the Summer Solstice, which is one of my favorite days of the year. I love being out and about in the long evening in summer anyway, and this is the longest evening of the year.
Miley went from that seated position down the spillway bank towards the old watering trough. Suddenly, she stopped and began sniffing at a hole that I had never noticed before.
Several years before, there had been a fence that separated the pond from the pasture. At one time horses were pastured there, and readers who have been with me for a while can remember the horses and foals that used to appear on this blog every once in while.
Once the fence was removed, all the fence posts were dug up, leaving behind little pits that have become obscured with the growing foliage.
This particular hole was an old fence post hole, and the poison ivy had grown in over top of it, making very small version of a nineteenth century wolf pit.
As Miley started sniffing the hole, I heard the cheeping of a chick. I instantly knew it as a duckling, and my first thought was that the other duck nest had begun to hatch, even though I thought it was at least two weeks too early. The other duck nest is in the very tall grass in the margin between the pasture and the spillway bank.
After about thirty seconds, my rational self began to deduce what the situation was.
The cheeping sound could have only come from the missing duckling!
So I clambered down the bank toward the hole.
After clearing away the poison ivy, I saw a little black and yellow head staring up at me. The duckling was stuck at the bottom of the hole, which was at least two feet deep, and there was no way it was going to be able to get out on its own.
No one had noticed the little duck in the hole because these ducks have inherited some pretty good survival instincts. When predators come near by, they lay still in hopes that it just wanders by without noticing. It’s not a rational response at all, but it’s one that evolved through eons of experiencing predation’s selection pressures.
When Miley stuck her nose in the hole, the little duck panicked, and if it hadn’t started making a lot of noise, it is very doubtful it ever would have been found.
I dived into the poison ivy and scooped up the duckling. Other than being rather gaunt from not eating the past two days, the little mallard was fine.
Of course, when I turned it loose, it raced to its mother, and she rather wisely took it to the mash dish, where it tucked in like a little piglet.
So the duck family is still intact.
Miley’s bloodlust towards ducks has largely subsided this year. She’s now just really curious about them, but if it hadn’t been for Miley’s nose, I doubt that we would have ever found this little duck.
It would have starved to death in the a little pit that is located just yards away from a pond teeming with mosquito larvae and duckweed.
There are now four little ducks, and in two weeks’ time, they will be joined by more.
The mallard hens have come a long way from dumping their eggs in the water. They now take motherhood very seriously.
Except for Phil’s sister.
She lays her eggs out in the open. She guards them for a couple of hours and then leaves.
And the crows know it. They know her as the tan duck who lays the tasty eggs!
I have not seen Phil mating with her, but I have seen her trying to tell Phil that’s she’s in the mood. Phil is normally a typical rapist male mallard, but he draws the line at incest– at least with his sister.
I have a lot of hope for Phil and the wild mallard’s first clutch. They’ve made it this far without any casualties. They are growing rapidly on a diet rich in mosquito larvae.
If only they can steer clear of the fence post holes!