Possumhaw: Ducks take a stroll



Shannon Bardwell



"The duck's nest was found today near the trail on the dry open prairie with, as far as could be seen, no water or marsh near." 


George Mercer Dawson, Canadian geologist and surveyor (1849-1901) 




The oddest thing happens every year about this time. Besides the torrential rains, the Pekin ducks come waddling up to the house. They leave the big lake, waddle across the field and around to the back of the house, then forage through the grass. They also park themselves under the bird feeders and nibble for spilt seed. This is not a good thing. There's no protection for them in the wide-open spaces. Pekins can't fly. They are a heavy breed, and their wings don't provide the lift power needed.  


The whole reason our ducks have a lake with a floating platform is for safety. So, in the early spring they chose to waddle to the house. It's baffling. Mostly they meander around the house awhile, then head back to the lake. Last week they spent the whole day near the house foraging and sleeping. When they sleep, they lower close to the ground and turn their heads backwards, tucking their bill into their back feathers. They look so lovely -- so white and peaceful, but it's not safe and I worry. 


The skies darkened and the rain began to fall. I grabbed a kitchen apron and covered myself in case I had to pick Hilda up in my arms. She would fight me, but I thought carrying her close to my chest would calm her and Helen would follow. It was not to be. Normally I can herd them back to the lake, but that day they'd circle back on me or around the trees. I picked up a stick and tried to gently guide them like a shepherdess, but they would have none of it. I even enlisted Harry the cat to help, but even Harry couldn't get them to go back to the lake. I had no choice but to give up and to hope and pray for the best.  


Thankfully, ducks have excellent vision. I've marveled at how I can step out the front door or from the car and the ducks honk at me from across the field. Their eyes are located on either side of their head, giving them a field of vision of almost 340 degrees. Because of the shape of their eyes they can see near and far at the same time. They have three eyelids and see in color. I'm not sure how scientists know they see in color, but they say they do.  


I've seen one duck sleep while the other keeps a single "eye" out. Sometimes they both sleep, but research shows part of their brain may stay awake so they can sense a threat in less than a second.  


Pekin ducks can lay over 150 large white eggs in a year. They are not known to be good "sitters" and leave their eggs just about anywhere. I have cooked duck eggs. The yolk is very yellow and nutritious, but somehow it doesn't seem right to cook Helen's and Hilda's eggs. The sisters are 7 years old now. They must be doing something right.  



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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