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.


  1. once hatched-how will they get out of the flower box, if they cannot fly-you said above you were to scoop them from the pool-but how would they get that far? Will momma carry each one out?

    1. Good question Anon. Sorry I forgot this one. According to our friend the biologist, it isn't unusual at all for mallards to nest up high in flower boxes and on railings. Even apartments have seen nests. He said not to worry. Once they are ready to leave the nest, mama will simply toss them down. Does this mean that we might have duckling corpses littering our deck caused by the fall? I suppose it is a possibility, but our source tells us not to worry. Of course it is a constant source of sleeplessness on my part. Time will tell.