I had an entirely different topic I was going to discuss today but decided to save it for next month when I am feeling better.
This week has been a tough one for me. I had a hard decision to make about the three Muscovy ducks I fostered for a local foundation. It was hard, but because I had their welfare in mind, I made the right decision, yet have been extremely sad since following through on that decision.
When we moved to South Carolina two years ago, I wanted to spend part of my summer doing turtle conservation on the beach. I wasn’t able to do the conservation that first year because I needed bi-lateral knee replacement; an operation I had put off for far too long. Instead, I learned that the Noah Foundation which is the non-profit side of a Veterinary Hospital/Clinic called Ark Animal Hospital took in injured and abandoned wild animals. Once the animals, most of them babies were healthy enough to be raised, they would call upon the members of a network of volunteer foster parents to raise the babies until the animals are old enough to be released back into the wild. I live across from two large ponds, so I volunteered for what I considered being an honorable role. I volunteered to foster ducks.
My first May in SC, I was called and asked if I would foster two ducklings, a Mallard, and a Muscovy. I agreed and went to pick them up. I had no idea what to do or how to do it, and Noah gave me scanty instructions. I was basically on my own. I soon discovered that the ducks would teach me how to care for them. I brought them home in a carry cage we used for our African Gray parrot.
Their little-webbed feet kept falling through the cage bottom wires, so I stopped at Walmart on my way home. I walked around the store trying to figure out how to fix the floor problem. I knew the cage was just the right size for them temporarily. I just needed to help them so they could maneuver around the cage. I soon found a black rubber “welcome” mat. I bought two thinking I could cut them to fit the cage. Once home, I cut them to size. They proved to be the perfect floor. Having two meant I could change the floor daily.
When it was evident that the two ducks were outgrowing their cage, I got online and purchased a six-sided folding, corral-type gate from Amazon. I would then lay down packing (as in moving) paper on the floor inside the corral making it easy to change the paper floor daily while keeping their incessant poop off the garage floor.
Eventually, I purchased a blow-up kids pool and an additional corral so they could learn to swim. By mid-summer, the Ducks had grown to the point that the small enclosed corral became too small for them. So I relinquished my garage to the Ducks. I spent the remainder of the summer with both corral gates wide open yet blocking the roll-up garage door, thus, keeping them inside the garage and mopping the garage floor several times each day. During the day I would leave the garage door raised enough so the Ducks could see and hear the other waterfowl across the street from my driveway. During those months, Minnie, the female Mallard, became a surrogate mother for the Muscovy. She was a good mother and loved her adopted child.
When she finally flew over to the other Mallards in the pond, Moe, the little yellow Muscovy would cry. Once Minnie left the garage, we tried to coax Moe to the pond, but he was scared. On the third day, Minnie ignored the calls of her new Mallard friends and stayed the entire day in the garage with Moe. She was consoling him and ensuring him that the pond was fun. Don’t tell me that ducks aren’t smart because the very next day, Minnie walked Moe over to the pond and he went willingly. From that day on, Moe stayed in the pond. Minnie and her crew would fly off during the day but would return in the evening. While she would be gone, Moe made friends with the Egrets that would visit as well as some of the Cormorants and one disabled Goose. It took Moe much longer to learn to fly than it did Minnie but fly he did.
I was in the Washington, D.C. area during December when both Minnie and Moe flew off never to return. When I returned, I was sad that I didn’t get to say good-bye, but I was also happy for Moe, especially, because Minnie made sure the other Mallards fully embraced into their fold the little yellow Muscovy with the black Elvis patch on the top of his head.
Raising the ducks was exhausting, but it was also rewarding. The next year, 2015, I decided to foster once more. This time, I walked into Ark Animal Hospital expecting to pick up one Muscovy that had a neck injury the foundation had fixed by keeping a little donut-shaped dog toy around its neck. The toy behaved like a human neck brace. When I picked the duckling up, she no longer needed the brace.
As I sat waiting for my foster child, a young woman approached me and asked if I would take two additional Muscovy’s whose little paddle feet had plastic bottoms taped to their webbed paddles. I don’t recall what the problem was with their feet, but the plastic paddles needed to remain attached for a few more weeks. My response to this young woman was, “One duck, three ducks, what’s the difference? Sure, I’ll take all three.” She explained to me that the three ducks had bonded. Hmm…sounds like I was duped. LOL, not the first time.
I raised the three Muscovy’s in the same fashion as I had the Mallard and Muscovy. This time, however, I kept them in the six-sided corral from the first day. Eventually, I put the two six-sided corrals together, and the Ducks stayed in the larger corral in the garage. When they were mature enough, I tried to coax them down to the pond. They didn’t cooperate. They were scared of the pond. I needed to force them to swim, especially the two, a male (Bert) and a female (Alice) who had the paddles on their feet. Noah advised me that I needed to learn to use their natural paddles to swim.
Again, I made a trip to Walmart looking for a deep enough pool for them to learn. I found one, but it was a large, rigid pool. Thus, during the day, I would shut the garage door, carry the two six-sided corrals to the backyard. I would then put the pool inside the huge corral, fill the pool with water, and carry each duck out to the corral. I even devised a ramp they could walk up to jump into the pool. It worked like a charm. However, it took Bert several days before he would get into the pool. Alice and Maggie took to the pool like ducks to water (yuk, yuk), but the big black male was scared. Eventually, he got in, and they all learned to swim. For about three weeks, this was my routine. I’d set up the corral in the morning and carry them individually to the corral. In the evening, I’d carry them back to the garage and set up the corral in the garage.
After three weeks I decided they needed to start spending the nights outside. I wanted them to get used to the sun going down and the night noises. So, I went to Home Depot and found a pliable plastic tarp which had a lattice type pattern, similar to wood lattice panels so that they couldn’t get out, or other animals couldn’t get in, but the Ducks could get the full flavor of the night while remaining safe.
That first night outside was tough for them. I could tell they were nervous, as they waited for me to bring them in. As the skies darkened, I could also sense they were scared. Once it became dark, I went out to the porch and sat talking to them. They were only four or five feet away from the porch. I spent half the night on the porch making sure they would be okay. They were, so that is where they stayed every day and evening for approximately another three weeks.
One day, during the fourth week, Alice flew up to the rail of the corral. It was time to let them out of their pen. It was also time to bring them to the pond. I brought them over to the pond, and they got in. From that day on, they spent the days and evenings in the pond with frequent trips up my driveway to the garage where I kept a bowl of mashed waterfowl food, a bowl of water and a bowl of cracked corn.
I fully expected them to fly away come winter. Or, I expected that they would completely transition to the pond. They never did do either. I subsequently discovered that, unlike Mallards, Muscovy’s are far more people friendly and people attached.
Since they transitioned to the pond in late summer/early autumn, they’ve been coming back over to my yard. We have a stream that flows at the edge of our backyard. We had tons of rain during the winter months keeping the stream full. They discovered they liked the stream. That’s where they would go during the day, then return to the pond at night.
During this whole fostering, it’s become evident that we have a several disgruntled neighbors. Last summer one of the neighbors complained to the Management company who has run the HOA while the subdivision built out. The complaint was that we were keeping geese. I received a letter, but took the letter down to the Management company and explained that I was a foster parent for the Noah Foundation. The well-known Foundation has a good reputation in the Myrtle Beach area. Thus, the company owner told me to do continue raising the ducks for release. Of course, I’ve done that. However, the Ducks haven’t left the area, and the neighbors are aware they come into our yard.
Most of our neighbors, like the ducks. In fact, a few of them feed them cracked corn. But, there’s always a grouch in the crowd. So, again a few weeks ago, a disgruntled neighbor called the Management company complained that we were harboring geese. Again, I received a letter and emailed the management company that these are the same ducks they gave me the green light to raise. I also explained that the ducks like swimming in the stream during the day, but live in the pond. Again, I got the green light to carry on.
Bob and I are building a new house about four miles from our current house. We knew we couldn’t bring the ducks with us. However, because of the obvious attitudes toward waterfowl, some of the neighbors have, I decided this wouldn’t be a good place to leave the ducks. I fear, once we are gone, someone may poison the ducks. So, four nights ago, I woke in the middle of the night and thought about a waterfowl-rich environment in the area where the ducks could thrive. I discussed me idea with Bob and he agreed; it would be the best thing for the Ducks. In essence, they would finally be completely released to live in a park-like environment where there are five small to mid-sized ponds and a huge lake. The area is full of swans, ducks, seagulls and when we scoped out the place, we saw a few other Muscovy’s and three Pekin ducks (snow white ducks).
Two mornings ago, we brought the ducks to the area and released them. I cried. I’ve become attached to the three Muscovy’s. After all, I raised them as children. However, I knew this was the best scenario for them. Knowing hasn’t made the transition any less painful. Oddly, though, writing about it is proving to feel therapeutic.
For the life of me, I will never understand why people move across from two large ponds without considering what makes its home there. Soon, however, they and this will become a distant memory. With the Ducks close by, however, as I had yesterday and today, I will continue visiting the area so I can check on the Ducks who seem to be very happy in their new home. They are free to be with a ton of waterfowl. My kids have left the nest.
My favorite photo of my three Muscovy Ducks.