Thursday, 20 June 2013

Some Burning Questions Answered

As we patiently await the upcoming hatch-fest that will most certainly define the summer of 2013, I thought that I would take this opportunity afforded by this boring period of downtime to answer some of your burning mallard-related questions. These are some of the most common queries that I have been asked over the last three weeks--some in person--many more through email and social media.

Q. "What's her name" or "Why don't you name her?"

A. I don't want to name her for the simple reason that she is not a pet. She is a wild animal and she needs to stay that way in my mind. Naming her, even in jest, would give her a permanence in my life that will only be heart-wrenchingingly difficult to part with when she and her babies eventually fly the coop or geranium box as the case may be. I know. I'm a suck.

Q. "When will the ducklings hatch?"

A. According to our research, a typical mallard will tend her nest for 28-30 days following the first egg laid. Since the first egg was discovered three weeks ago this coming Sunday, our best guess for hatching is next weekend, Canada Day. I have an all-Canadian duck! I am only hoping that we are home to witness the blessed event. There is every possibility that we may return home on one of those weekend days to a duckling-filled pool. Which leads me to....

Q. "When will the babies be able to fly?"

A. Hold onto your weaves! Environment Canada tells us not before 50 days. 50 DAYS!! No, we are not going to house them for the remainder of the summer. Our expert has told us that when we see them in the pool, we are to gently scoop them up with a strainer, place them in a box outside of the pool gates and mama will come to lead them away. Let's hope that happens.

Q. "Won't they hatch over a period of eight days since they were laid over a similar period?"

A. Not according to the experts. (Thanks to Environment Canada's special wildfowl biologist!) The most likely scenario is that they will hatch over a 24 hour time frame.

Q. "Why didn't you just move the box and let her abandon the nest?"

A. This is actually the most posed question so far. Why? Well frankly, because I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I realize that my deck probably isn't the best place to nest and hatch ducklings, but honestly it is one of the safest. We don't get all that many mallard predators visiting, (f***ing squirrels excepted) and it is my belief that we have encroached on her habitat just as much as she has on ours. I get it. It is my house. But something about the natural order of this whole thing really does appeal to my holistic sense of balance. She has not created any hazard or fouled (pun!!) any of our space. We are able to use our pool and surrounding areas, including our back door, (she has become as strangely comfortable with us as we have with her) so I have chosen to just leave her be. 

Q. "Where is Daddy Duck during all of this waiting?"

A. Where you might typically expect a fun-loving male who is on the precipice of becoming an octo-dad to be---out with the boys. We personally haven't seen Dad in more than three weeks, but my neighbour told me that he saw him very early one morning, paddling in the pool and checking in on the Mrs.  Even though mallards mate for life and are said to be monogamous, it is my guess that he is out on the nearby pond playing poker and smoking cigars with all of the other expectant fathers looking for one last fling. 

Q. "Do you feed her?"

A. On this point I am unequivocal. ABSOLUTELY NOT!! She is a wild animal who is quite capable of sourcing her own meals. Remember I told you that she hasn't been soiling our pool area? Well, I am quite convinced it is partly the result of her eating elsewhere. Ducks are omnivores. I am certain that she would happily eat if I fed her, but I just think it is best if she fends for herself. By the way, while many of us spent hours in our formative years feeding bread and other carb-laden products to ducks, it is really unhealthy for them. It is the equivalent of junk food for waterfowl; a kind of Big Mac for mallards. It can lead to unhealthy weight gain and changes in mating and migratory behaviour. So, don't do it.

Q. Aren't you concerned that mallards are creatures of habit and will return next year for the sequel?

A. Yes and no. Yes I would like her to nest elsewhere and yes we are already taking steps to ensure that this occurs. We will remove the flower boxes once the babies have departed and we will stop any nesting if it occurs next year, but that is the future and I am living in the now. Currently, I am entranced and enthralled by nature arriving and playing out squarely on my doorstep. I find myself watching her a lot and I know that she is also watching me. We have bonded. I know that sounds deluded, but it is true. I am convinced that she knows me and feels that she can trust me. I can come and go without incident, and she inherently understands that nobody here will hurt her or disrupt her nest. It has been a truly fascinating experience.

So there you have it. If I haven't answered your question, put it in the comments section below and I will to the best of my ability. I realize that to some of you I seem obsessed with this small natural miracle playing out in my backyard, but honestly it is so beautiful to me. So much so that describing it adequately has been difficult. Keep you posted.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Thornhill Mallard

A guest post today courtesy of The Husband. This is how he spent last evening. Obsessed with our duck visitor. For those of you not in on the joke, relax it's a Canadian thing. In order to understand check out Hinterland videos on YouTube.

Just a side note...My guy is brilliant and deceptively funny. This project is just tangible proof of those qualities.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Ducking F*** Follow-up

As posted last week, our deck has become a home for unwed ducks. As of last evening Momma Mallard (I fear giving her a pet name because frankly, while I find the whole situation fascinating, I really want her to do her biological business and leave us to resume proper summer use of our backyard) was squatting on an "eight is quite enough" pack of ready-made omelettes.
Ms Duck hasn't left the nest for more than a half an hour at a time, and for no more than once or twice a day. You can't say that the girl lacks commitment.
But here's the rub. The weather is improving and we would like to use the pool. Every time we even attempt to open the back door, she squawks, moults, and flies off in a rage. She has also taken to soiling the pool on occasion, but nothing that we can't handle with some diligent cleaning and chemicals. Our research has taught us that this could be another month in the nesting and hatching process. Not only that, it is said that when mallards like a location, they tend to make it a yearly experience, kind of like Canadian snowbirds jetting to Florida in December. Patience never being one of his strongest virtues, nor at all liking the idea of operating a wetlands retreat, The Husband decided that he would look into what might be involved in humanely relocating our growing avian family.

He started by calling a wildlife removal expert who told him that they would come and move the ducks but that they require a permit. Ok. This is now descending into the complicated. Onward to step 2. He emailed the Department of Wildlife Conservation which apparently (who knew?) is a subset of the Ministry of the Environment. They responded immediately with a phone call. The lovely lady informed him that the ducks could only be removed if they were causing a hazard. (hint hint) He asked if her soiling the pool constituted a hazard and she (far too gleefully for my liking) answered that it did indeed, and that she would issue the permit to remove the ducks and destroy the eggs and nest. The Husband, dedicated vegetarian and environmentalist that he is, told the eager duck killer that we are looking for a humane removal and have no interest in destroying the eggs, nor in sending the mother into immediate shiva. Wildlife Lady responded that she will have a wildlife specific biologist from the ministry contact us to determine if such a method is possible. A wildlife specific biologist!! Our little duck nest has officially become a federal case.

It is so nice to know that my federal tax dollars are hard at work toward the task of saving and rescuing Momma and her unhatchlings. I should note that my federal Member of Parliament just so happens to be the Environment Minister. I wonder if Mr. Kent might come over and remove the family personally. It might be the first environmentally humane thing he has done in his not-so illustrious career.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Nature Comes To My Door

I have made no secret of the fact that I live in the suburbs; an often derided concrete mess of strip malls, Walmarts, uninspired housing designs, and synagogues of every possible denomination. It isn't the most beautiful place in the world to call home, but I love it and feel quite comfortable here. My kids, of course, made a beeline for the urban jungle that is midtown Toronto just as fast as their re-gentrified legs, paychecks, and public transit would take them. Way too cool for the 'burbs, Mom!

I have often lamented at the fast-paced urbanization of my little "City Above Toronto". Where there used to be farmer's markets, there are now condos. Where there used to be horseback riding locales, there are now condos and big box outlets. Where there used to be green space and forestry, there are now condos, big box outlets, and traffic congestion. And...don't forget the toll-activated highway that runs through all of it. This rapid development has meant that indigenous wildlife has been uprooted and displaced. We often see deer roaming the shoulders of the 407. We spy foxes wandering our neighbourhood streets at night. Raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and skunk settle in our garages, pools and attics and make messes of our properties. This is the norm for life above the city. We have usurped and stripped them of their homes, so we are left trying to coexist and make peace with the critters. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don't. (Squirrels beware!) But, never before have I seen anything quite like the duck family that seems to have made my deck their personal obstetrics ward.

Our mallard friends are frequent visitors. I wrote back in March about how they spent Good Friday paddling happily for hours  in the cover of our yet-to-be-opened-for-the-season pool. They took off that day, and we hadn't seen them again since. We just figured that they were nesting somewhere near the pond that is about a stone's throw from our house. At least that is what we thought until yesterday.

On Saturday, The Husband and I finally decided to get around to completing our spring planting. We had been procrastinating terribly due to some personal issues, but the small boxes on the deck were crying out for some attention, and we purchased some geraniums to brighten up the railings. I spent an hour this past Shabbat lovingly caring for the plants and was immediately cheered by the vibrant flowers. And then...Sunday arrived. We were up early, awakened by the rain. The Husband went downstairs first and called up that I should come and see what those f***ing squirrels had done to my freshly planted blooms.

I went out in the rain, cleaned up the mess, and started to replant when I noticed this....

All I could think of was that now the f***ing squirrels were stealing eggs from unsuspecting ducks or chickens, and hiding them in my flower boxes. I carefully removed the egg (yes the guilt is coming!) and replanted the flowers. All was right with the world again.....until......


We saw this.

And this....

And then again today this....

And now this...

Just to clarify. This box is two steps from my back door. We are that close.

Needless to say, I feel like a murderer. I have taken to calling it my culling of the flock or, if you prefer, a selective abortion. Please don't send the pro-life crazies to my door. It was an honest mistake, I swear.

We have decided to see where all of this quackery leads. We will leave Mama Mallard alone to tend her young. After all, it is her home too. (According to some diligent online research by The Husband, mallards can lay one egg a day for up to 9 days. I am not certain that my flower box is big enough but we shall see.) I figure that since we bipods have continually infringed on their environment, it is the least that we can do.

A post script. For those of you calling on me to apologize to the f***ing squirrels for accusation without will be a cold day in hell when I do that. Those nasty creatures are responsible for so much mayhem on my property that I cannot  find that kind of forgiveness within me. I still say that while they may not have created this situation, they have created dozens more. I am certain that one day when I descend to the lowest levels of the hot place to spend my eternity, a f***ing squirrel will be there, eating through the cord of the one electrical fan issued to me. It is my destiny. So please understand that they will now and forever be labelled as f***ing squirrels.