Life would be easier if everything on the Internet were true. Several sites state waterfowl hens can’t recognize their own hatchlings for their first week and ducklings don’t know their own mom for about the same length of time. That’s why “creching” occurs — young birds naturally follow other youngsters (any youngsters) and sometimes end up in the wrong family groups in crowded pond conditions. Hens don’t notice these additions because they can’t count worth a damn. The Brood 4 hen is mathematically challenged and has acquired ducklings on at least two occasions. This tale shows some hens are either more observant or better at math than she is.
A 1-2 day old duckling was found alone in Costco’s parking lot Saturday morning. A good Samaritan brought the young bird to Joyce Schuelke, owner of the Wildernest store in Brighton. She’s the local “go-to” resource for everything wild. Facing a busy day in her store, she asked me to find a willing millpond Mallard hen to accept this tiny fellow. Seemed easy enough. Joyce and I have successfully teamed to facilitate many feathered adoptions over the years.
It wasn’t difficult to find a brood of about Costco’s age. Brood 11 had 10 chicks nibbling on shoreline vegetation near the Stillwater Grill. Within minutes, the Brood 11 hen was distracted by the unwanted advances of two Mallard drakes and left her tykes alone. Drakes relentlessly pursue hens in this season whether they are caring for broods or just minding their own business.
While mom was quacking in the distance, I gently tossed Costco within inches of the other ducklings (above, left). The brood looked at him for a moment, decided he must be a sibling they hadn’t noticed before, and all 11 began to forage. Success! Another adoption complete!
Mom returned and led her youngsters through the shoreline buckthorn to reach a more remote location where drakes might leave her alone (right). I was thrilled this introduction went so smoothly … until the family group emerged and I found only ten chicks following the hen. Costco was found paddling in the opposite direction near where he was first placed in his new environment. Peeping and looking for companionship, he found a water lily pad on which to contemplate his options (below).
By then, the randy drakes had found another hen to chase, the mother of five older ducklings identified as Brood 10.
As mom circled above them, the quintet peeped to remind her she was shirking her parental responsibilities and they weren’t happy about it (right). Nervous, they entered the water. Their incessant peeping attracted Costco’s attention.
He quickly swam to the brood (left). Success at last? All went well until mom returned to find a smaller bird had joined her clutch. Guess she can count or noticed the size difference. She nudged him out of the group and sent him to forage on his own in the duckweed and algae-covered bay (below).
Costco didn’t understand his exile was permanent and soon returned to Brood 10. The hen decided her subtle approach didn’t deliver the message. This time, she was much more forceful. She bit the tiny bird then grabbed him by a wing and shook him several times (below).
I felt as helpless as the five ducklings watching their mom. During the throttling, the hen came within a couple of feet of me. She threw Costco onto shore where he scampered up the embankment. With one quick swoop, I had him back in my hand. Thanks, mom!
Earlier in the afternoon, I passed one of the pond’s frequent fishermen. Jarrett commented he had raised both chickens and ducks and still had the accoutrements. He offered to take the bird home to let it rest a bit then he’d find a suitable family it could join. His offer sounded much better after my two unsuccessful attempts. It’s against Federal law to raise wildlife unless one is a certified rehabber. Jarrett will make sure the bird is returned to the wild in due course.