Many years ago we had pet ducks. My parents decided my brother and I needed more pets than what we had, and being young we both agreed. But we already had dogs and cats, so what next? Ducks, of course!
It started with two very small Muscovy ducklings named Mr. Peabody (left, in front of me) and Mr. Nielsen (right, in front of my brother).
As they grew up, they truly became members of the family. They would come when called. Despite not always clipping their wings in a timely manner, which allowed them to gain the ability to fly, they would stay close to home and return to the back yard when it suited them (or when we caught them in the neighboring yards and brought them home). They played with the dogs but otherwise did not fear them; the back yard was more their domain than any dog’s. On a related note, the dogs would protect the ducks, especially from children coming from the nearby elementary school who were foolish enough to climb over the fence to get a better look at these fowl neighbors.
In this photo, they are still juveniles and have not yet formed their permanent colorings. That is Mr. Peabody on the left again, and Mr. Nielsen is on the right.
We built a house for them in which they nested. Nested? But their names…?
Yes, I know. Get off me about it. We had no idea when we brought them home that they were both females. Then again, the idiot we got them from didn’t know either, although, in that horribly Texan way, he relied on a bit of hemming and hawing to delay while he made up an answer. He said they were both males. I think the eggs they laid for years and years might be an indication to the contrary.
Anyway, we built a house for them, then dug a hole and put in a large tub for swimming and bathing. They were in heaven. But then someone wanted babies (ahem, brother) and decided to bring home some males. First it was a wild mallard named Maynard who promptly ate himself to death (he ate less of what we fed them and more of what he could find in the yard, so he was dead only one day after Diazinon was used). Despite whatever intentions this duck had prior to his untimely demise, his efforts to mate with Mr. Peabody and Mr. Nielsen failed to produce a single viable egg (they were never fertilized).
After Maynard’s passing, another Muscovy was brought in with the thought that it was a male. We weren’t terribly bright back then when it came to identifying duck genders, though, for the ‘he’ was actually another ‘she.’ I’m afraid I don’t remember this one’s name, but at least I have a picture of her with the girls. That’s Mr. Nielsen on the left, Mr. Peabody in the middle, and the latest not-really-a-gentleman caller on the right. It goes without saying that she didn’t help with the mating idea. You’ll notice their plumage has finally settled into its permanent design (look at the tops of their heads to see a major difference from their juvenile displays in the photo above).
Despite the comings and goings of various suitors and false suitors, all of whom seemed unable to satisfy the ladies, they remained wonderful pets and never questioned our intentions.
As part of the family, they knew they had to pull their weight around the house (or yard in their case). One way they did this was to keep the insect population in check. Another way they helped was with the garden. Again, this had much to do with insects. My father would till the garden before planting; the ducks helped with this by following him. By doing this, they could rid the garden soil of any pests right after he churned them up. There was no time for escape. You see below Mr. Peabody following the tiller and Mr. Nielsen ahead of it (on the left edge of the picture).
And again. This time they’re sticking close to Dad’s feet as he makes his way through the garden. You can see from this picture how much they trusted us. They’re right under his feet, following very close to the gas-powered engine roaring away in the tiller, and yet they feel completely safe and unworried. That’s Mr. Nielsen on the left and Mr. Peabody on the right.
Eventually, as with all children, we began to grow up and move out of the house. And when maturity drew us away, the ducks finally were donated to a local farm or wildlife sanctuary or something along those lines. It was innocuous as far as I remember and knew back then.
Despite not fearing for their welfare, a part of me laments their departure. No one—and I even mean no one within the family—knew them as well as I did. No one else knew what they liked, how best to treat them, where and how they most liked to be petted, what their various personality traits were, or how much they really were attached to us. I do not doubt they moved to a place where there were a lot of other ducks. I also do not doubt they had a lot more room in which to roam.
Likewise, I do not doubt for a single moment that they missed us, that they missed their home and their family, and that they did not get the attention to which they were accustomed, attention lavished on them by everyone (especially me). I know they never again were petted in all the ways they liked. I know never again were they held in someone’s lap in that oh-so-special way. I know never again did they enjoy the same level of trust and comfort around people that they enjoyed while living with us.
I look back now and regret terribly letting them go so easily. Ah, but these are the lessons of growing up, the disappointments that teach us to be better in the future.
I miss those ducks. I miss the tremendous entertainment they provided. I miss the unconditional love they demonstrated in ways too few would even understand. I wish things had been different, but that’s like wishing none of us ever grew up. Time moves forward. People grow and change. Oh but were we better able to appreciate the loves of childhood when they mattered most…
[Update] Now years after posting this, a close look at the third Muscovy had me realizing it was a female, not a male. We couldn’t tell back then, of course, and I didn’t look closely at the image when I first posted this entry in 2006. But referencing it in a recent post had me looking closely at the images, hence the sudden realization that we’d laughably misidentified her as a him. I’ve since updated this entry to properly identify her gender.