Now one of the basic rules about ducks is that they are randy—let me re-state that, RANDY…. One drake is in absolute heaven with a harem of about 6 hens; the minimum number of hens per drake is probably 2, but books say 4. When we got our ducklings, they were “unsexed” day olds; it was a crapshoot as to what the number of males versus females was going to end up being. Thinking optimistically, I figured that we’d probably end up with 12-14 hens and 6-8 drakes….and could make do until the next batch of ducklings were up and running. Right.
Try 7 female runner ducks and 9 males (we lost 2 hens and 1 drake to drowning–go figure– and 1 drake is currently in sickbay with a strained leg). Top this off with the drakes seeming to view George as not only their guardian, but also a HUGE competitor for their hens! Confusion reigns in small brains.
With the number of drakes we have, we ideally should have 54 hens. Lacking about 47 of these, our drakes are becoming stressed….and the hens no less so….Or so I conjectured after seeing what they had done to George’s beautiful chest plumage. With a proverbial heavy heart, I decided that I needed to send 7 of our drakes off to a tabletop destiny…and that come the next morning, I would go out to the orchard, paint brush in hand to visually “cull” the flock.
“Sexing” waterfowl is not like with dogs or cats: no obvious clues here. There are two ways to determine the sex of ducks…and this only when they get old enough–about 4-5 months; drakes develop curly tail feathers and hens become very vocal with a distinctively loud “quack”. The day before when I had been out in the orchard, I had counted tail feathers and had come up with my drake/hen count….their quacks are all about the same, so not a dependable marker.
So after I finished watering and filling feed containers for both Gracie and the rest of the flock, I turned to sit down and evaluate which drakes are the strongest—the best “flock sires” as it were. In this sea of feathers, I see ONE set of curly tail feathers. I figure its early, only one cup of coffee and try the count once again. Bear in mind that they’re scuttling around all over the place: hence the name, RUNNER ducks. But nope… only one curly tail feather.
I look closer at the tails of the ducks and realize that about 7 or so of them look like someone has taken a bite out of their tail feathers; instead of the feathers tapering into a graceful, “V” shape, the feathers end jaggedly, like a “blunt” haircut–longer on the sides than the middle. Suspicious.
Now, I know that I’ve been accused of anthropomorphizing, but on reflection, it seems clear to me that these runner ducks psychically picked up on my mindset in the wee hours of the morning…looked each other in the eye and said: “Hurry….I’ll pull out your tail feathers, you get mine, and she’ll never know which ones to cull”.
Flock mentality at its finest.
The end result of this duck tail grooming, is that for now, no one is being culled….George is sharing Gracie’s daytime and nighttime confinement pens and the ducks are free ranging it in the orchard during the day and at night have their own private quarters …an added bonus to this new living arrangement is no more nighttime screams are coming out of George and duck eggs are being laid again–in the middle of winter no less!!.