The Infanticidal Duck

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Several months ago, we decided to buy a pair of coloured ducks. Since all of your ducks are white (with the exception of Twisty which was given to us in exchange for one of our white ones), we thought it would be a good idea to introduce some colour into the flock.

The pair are adults, mature and suitable for breeding. Because of their colour, we call them “Daffy.” They came from a farm similar to ours which allows ducks to open range. We placed them in the duck fattening pen to get them used to the new place and prevent them from escaping and returning to where they came from.

In “captivity”, the pair mated and produced 11 eggs. Before the duck hen sat on the eggs, she took one egg out and broke it. This, in retrospect, was a sign of stress. Something which I should’ve addressed immediately.

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The eggs were laid on the ground, as ducks often prefer, in one corner of the pen. We placed a sack on one side of the pen in order to cover the eggs from view. However, the duck hen and the eggs are visible at the back and side.

When the duck hen sat on the eggs, we took out the drake to prevent him from forcibly mating her. Our alpha drake, Daddy Duck, encountered this new drake, danced along with him and started a fight. The new drake was easily subdued. This ritual, which would take place again in the next couple of days, established the hierarchy in the flock. After such, there was peace and order.

In the meantime, the duck hen dutifully sat on her eggs and I thought it was fine. Until after 35 days when the eggs hatched in the late afternoon, the nightmare would become apparent in the early morning.

I heard cackling noises from the fattening pen, the type of noise made by ducks when they are angry. When I looked, I saw the massacre of ducklings. Two ducklings still inside their eggs were pecked to death, two ducklings were crushed in the nest, five ducklings were found dead outside the pen as if desperately trying to run away from something. I found one duckling still alive, placed it in a box with a heating lamp but it died within a few hours.

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The duck hen, new to the environment, surrounded by unfamiliar people and ducks, was deeply stressed and threatened, prompting her to break one of her eggs and thereafter killing all her ducklings. I am yet to become familiar with signs of stress in ducks and I did not see this until too late.

The duck hen has since been released with her mate and all the other ducks. Both are doing fine. We provide shelter and nesting covers for our ducks and leave it to them to choose where they would like to nest. The drake has sired one duckling as seen in the latest hatchling, and we hope he will have more. The duck hen, in the meantime, has not yet laid new eggs. Perhaps later, in her own time and place.

If the behaviour of breaking eggs and killing ducklings persist, the duck hen will need to be culled.

Duck Tape

This isn’t really about duck tape (not even duct tape). This is about duck rape. I just didn’t want to use that “r” word all over this blog post. I have a feeling search engines will allocate this blog post (or even the entire blog) into that category of No Return. So, when I talk about duck tape, you know what I mean. šŸ˜‰

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One morning, while feeding the ducks, I saw this (above photo) under the house. On the left is a coconut tree stump that ducks use as a nest. Penny covered it with a sack and some pieces of wood for privacy. On the right is a dead duck hen.

I investigated the scene and made the conclusion that this duck hen — mother of 6 eggs in that stump — was a victim of duck tape. Judging from the flattened appearance of the duck hen, I’m not going to assume she was run over by a steamroller. She was run over by a mad drake.

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The first time we encountered something like this was in early 2015. In Do Ducks Know How to Grieve, we actually saw a drake mating with a duck hen and it didn’t look very nice. We assumed it was alright but we were wrong. We culled the drake that killed the hen.

But this time, we ave absolutely no idea who the tapist was. There are two suspects: Daddy Duck and Daffy Duck.

Anyway, tape is supposedly not as common amongst MuscoviesĀ as it isĀ amongstĀ mallards. With that, I consider ourselvesĀ quite lucky to have only two fatalities in the two years we’ve been breeding ducks. We also cull drakes (they are large and meaty!) to avert violence.

To learn more about this, the following links are provided:

Female DucksĀ fight back
Some female ducks and geese have evolved complex genitalia to thwart unwelcome mating attempts, according to a new study.

Ducks Are After You
Ducks have a mating ritual scientifically known as “rape flight”, which can involve multiple drakes attacking a single lady-duck, often drowning or pecking her to death. Ducks are not nice.

Man Accused of Taping Duck
A man in Turkey is being accused by his in-laws of an ugly crime.

PS. We transferred the orphan Ā eggs to another nest and the amazing duck hen hatched out all 17 eggs!

Duck Ballet

Our ducks learned to dance sometime before the drought. This is behaviour so far observed only amongst a few of the younger (less than a year old) female ducks. I associated this behaviour with the drought. Third week of May it finally started raining heavily. And the ducks are still dancing. But not as often as before.

I just feel grateful thatĀ the long dry spell has finally been broken. Over the past several weeks temperatures have been reaching a rather uncomfortable 35Ā°C – perhaps not too bad if you live in a nipa house surrounded by trees. For now, it’s 29Ā°C at high noon and probably will be raining later in the evening.

We Have Duck Eggs Again!

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The last clutch of duck eggs were laid in DecemberĀ and hatched in February. Over the next 3 months, we didn’t have any eggs. The two drakes stopped courting the duck hens — they all stopped mating. I would’ve thought that – like chickens – duck hens would continue laying eggs even without a drake, but this wasn’t the case. Just like the drought of now 4 months, the ducks expressed their own response to the dry spell.

The strange dance that some duck hens began exhibiting in January (and a couple of them continue to do so) suddenly have new meaning to me.

Then earlier this month, it started to rain, not very much, but at least, the earth gets a bit to drink! And the drake began his dance, and now, we have eggs again!

 

With that, our alpha drake has become more aggressive with regard to enlarging his territory. Here, in the video above, he has engaged one of the roosters in a fight. The drake uses his weight to pin down the rooster and his wings to beat him, while the rooster uses his sharp beak in several attempts to inflict wounds on vulnerable areas of the drake’s body such as the eyes.

It looks like a nasty fight but neither animals really get hurt. Roosters fighting are bloodier and deadlier with their sharp beaks, claws and spurs.

Looking on are 10 young ducks (of 4 months age) that have been released a month ago from an experimental fattening program I started in early January. Note that some of the ducks have “angel wing syndrome”. This wing deformity seems to appear when young ducks are fed large amounts of protein, thus motivating a growth spur much faster than their bodies could take. This leads me to think that this breed of Muscovies should start fattening/finishing at 12 weeks of age minimum instead of 10 weeks.

Later, I’ll write more about this new fattening phase program I am implementing as I am getting very good results!

Hens Spat

I’m sure you don’t see this very often. šŸ˜‰ This is speckly hen and one of our duck hens fighting. The duck hen has a brood of some 16 ducklings and she doesn’t like old speckly grabbing their food and pecking them. These fights are usually quite harmless because the animals can flee for safety – they are not confined in pens or coops.

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Old speckly hen has always been quite a bully, sometimes resulting in duckling fatalities because of repetitive pecking – so honestly, she had it coming.

Generally, ducks are not as bloody and violent in their fights compared to chickens. Without the sharp claws and beaks, ducks can’t really inflict wounds and can really just rely on their weight and the strength of their wings to subdue their opponents. So, this fight just ended with old speckly hen running away and mommy duck hissing at her. I doubt that speckly hen learned her lesson though …

Ducks Mimic Eating Motions

Shortly after feeding the ducks this afternoon, I noticed this unusual behaviour amongst a couple of mature female ducks. These are mature egg-laying duck hens. They have just finished eating when they began to mimic the sweeping motions of feeding with their beaks. Here are two videos showing this peculiar behaviour. The second video shows the ducks stretching their necks, moving their heads upwards.

I assumed it was part of a mating ritual but the first video might dispute this, where there is a mature male duck (drake) nearby, drinking from a plastic basin, and inadvertently pushing one of the duck hens aside, a bit of a scuffle ensuing.

Do you know what this behaviour means?

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I was able to spend some time with the ducks and take these photos before it started to rain.

Wake for a Dead Fish

This fish floated dead* in the pond so we decided to give it to the pigs. They didn’t want it. To the chickens, they didn’t want it. To the ducks, and this was their response. Yet another behaviour that we can only speculate upon. A similar behaviour occurred earlier this year, when a female duck was killed by the alpha drake, seeĀ Do Ducks Know How To Grieve.

*We have a not so large tilapia pond. Quite a number of small tilapia have appeared. I wasn’t able to catch any of the large tilapia lately because they have become smarterĀ (and less hungry since it is chesa season and some of the fruits have fallen into the pond). As the fish population grows, the older and bigger ones die.

Do Ducks Know How to Grieve?

Or as we humans define it, “feel intense sorrow”?

In early 2015, I saw the oldest drake in a group of about 15 ducks forcibly mating with a female duck of about the same age. I have read in various literature on ducks that the mating behaviour of ducks can be quite violent. So I assumed, despite the distressful appearance of the female duck, that what was happening was quite normal, just the way of nature. Besides, the ducks are free-range, so ducks can flee when they are threatened by other ducks.

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Unfortunately, in just a matter of minutes, I saw the female duck lying dead on the ground and the drake walking away. It was horrifying! I couldn’t believe it. I felt sorry and upset that I was wrong in thinking that the female duck would be alright.

A small group of ducks begin to gather near the dead one.
A small group of ducks begin to gather near the dead one.

Then some five minutes later, I saw a group of ducks converge near the dead duck. The female ducks were the first to gather, followed by the second (younger) drake.Ā Soon, the ducks positioned themselves near the dead duck, looking on as if they were grieving.

A most curious behaviour of ducks gather near the dead duck, looking on, as if grieving.
A most curious behaviour of ducks gather near the dead duck, looking on, as if grieving.

This went on for about fifteen minutes until the older drake, the culprit, arrived. The other ducks looked at him.

The culprit arrives (encircled in the photo) and the others take notice.
The culprit arrives (encircled in the photo) and the others take notice.

Twenty minutes had passed when the young drake began to confront the older drake, causing the other ducks to slowly disperse.

The younger drake confronts the culprit and the group begins to disperse.
The younger drake confronts the culprit and the group begins to disperse.

That same day, I decided that we must cull the older drake. With him around, there had been constant fighting and forceful mating. Such behaviour not only distress the ducks but have also killed younger ducks that got caught in the fight. This decision to cull turned out to be a very good decision.

At the moment, we have two drakes that service some 10 female ducks. The two drakes also get along very well with each other, the older teaching the younger one about mating and looking after the females. It is necessary to cull in order to stop unnecessary stress in the duck population.

The Ugly Duckling …

… is really a bully duckling. It was sometime in March 2015 when I noticed the behaviour of one of many ducklings, one so determined to provoke and beat up anyone it came across. I was able to capture this hilarious though troublesome behaviour on video, below. You can see the mother trying to stop the bully duckling but to no avail.

I don’t know what has happened to this duckling – whether it is still around (unlikely, since all of our ducks are not so unruly but I’m willing to accept that the duckling could’ve undergone a religious experience šŸ˜‰ ). Or it could haveĀ died while still young (we’ve had high mortality rates, asĀ the duck population exploded, mostly due to crushing by larger ducks and aggressive pecking by chickens over food, not to mention being eaten by predators such as cats, snakes, large birds and monitor lizards). Or it could’ve grown up and was made into a stew.

Luckily, as they are free-range, ducklings can get away from aggressive behaviour like this. But once ducklings are kept inside coops and there happens to be a bully duckling amongst them, then there might be some real trouble. For now, we have been keeping very young ducklings in coops to protect them from predators and crushing, as well as to give them the chance to eat and get the strength they need without competition from larger ducks and chickens. So far so good.

If we ever have a bully duckling in the coop,Ā it would be necessary to separate that duckling from the rest. But thank goodness ducks are generally not so prone to fighting as chickens are.