Showing posts with label ducks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ducks. Show all posts

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Duck Takes Nature Walk at Herrontown Woods

Young ducks are great for taking on nature hikes, imprinted as they are on their human caretaker. We had one come hiking up the trail recently to the Veblen House grounds while we were working on preparation for this Sunday's Veblen birthday gathering (come if you can).

A writeup on the duck, a magpie, is at this link.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Duck Gets a Taste of Spring

Our Pekin duck has been finding more reason to venture out of the coop this week. There's mud to probe with its beak, and the luxury of a bath in one of our backyard ponds swelled by snowmelt from neighbors' yards. She had no problem breaking through the thin layer of ice left by last night's freeze.

Earlier in the month, finding water in its liquid state was more of a challenge, as she took sips from the fillable-spillable minipond catching water from the roof.

She keeps a sharp eye out for hawks, turning her head to get a better look at the sky. Usually, that turn of the head means something's flying over, be it a vulture, crow, hawk, or a jet headed into Newark Airport.

Meanwhile, the duck's companion, a chicken of similar feather, was laying another robin's-egg-blue egg. We often get two a day now, as warmer temperatures and longer days have broken the winter drought.

Ducks and chickens made multiple appearances in movies this weekend at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, particularly in the excellent documentary on permaculture, "Inhabit". The ducks were said to be excellent at keeping the slug population down on an outdoor shitake mushroom farm, and the chickens happily batted cleanup in one of the crop rotations, eating any seeds that eluded harvest.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Ducks in Snow

We didn't have tracks like these in the backyard last winter. What could they be?

No, not the robins, who paid a visit to the water tray the day before.

Not the wild turkey that surprised us with a visit last year.

Here they are. Not snowy owls or snowy egrets, but the great snow ducks of the notsonorth, heading for ...

minipond heaven, or at least haven, courtesy of the recent rains.

The ducks show far more courage than their coopmates, who are playing chicken in the warmest corner they can find.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ducklings Coming?

One reason my younger daughter was eager to get home from a trip has to do with a certain female mallard named Swee' Pea, who decided a couple weeks ago that it was a good time to make a nest in the chicken/duck coop. She sits there for long periods, taking periodic breaks to get water and food. The contents of the nest are kept warm during these breaks by a blanket of down.

Before leaving, my daughter shined a light through one of the eggs and detected motion in what looked like a reddish cloud in the egg. She left clear instructions, just in case our friends who took care of the ducks while we were gone didn't notice the well-disguised nest.


The sign clearly worked, because Swee' Pea and eggs were safe and sound when we returned. At this point, the ducklings are moving about in the eggs, their motions detectable by 13 year olds but not yet by adults. Though this is largely a take-things-as-they-come approach to having birds in the backyards, there are questions to ask and decisions to be made. If we actually do end up with ducklings, do we separate them from Swee' Pea and raise them in a bathtub in the house? Or do we separate off a portion of the coop for her to raise them? How will the other birds behave around the ducklings? Will the male, Ronnie, play any role? I'm interested to see if the mother will promptly march the newborns off to the nearest minipond, to get acquainted with the joys of water.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ducks and Rain

The resident ducks have been talking about the great weather lately. While the human contingent complains of clouds and gloom, the ducks have been thriving in the backyard wetland paradise born of cool, rainy days.

The lawn is much more interesting when it's wet, as they probe with their broad beaks, perhaps filtering out choice bits of microflora and fauna.

They've voted their approval of a third, newly dug minipond, located in the "headwaters" of the backyard stream to catch runoff from the neighbor's yard. The dense clay keeps it filled for days, without a liner.

The mud at the edge of one of the older miniponds also appears to hold morsels of nutrition, unless they're just in to geophagy.

Though there may be some sophisticated filtering going on, their twin interests in mud and water make for a messier coop. It's necessary to change out the water in the coop more often than with chickens alone, as the ducks somehow manage to transfer dirt into the water tray.

At the same time, they spend considerable time keeping themselves clean. The beak that serves to explore mud also is used to toss water onto their backs as they bathe, at ease in their watery world bounded by Carex sedges and deertongue grass.

Note: How the ducks will affect our mosquito suppression techniques awaits to be seen. In the past, some combination of Mosquito Dunks and goldfish, along with natural predators like water striders, have kept mosquitoes from populating the ponds. The ducks' presence may affect the ability of water striders and goldfish to do their work. There's a lot of vigilance that comes with the pleasure of having a new creature feature in the backyard.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chickens and Wildlife

Introduce poultry into your backyard, and you may find yourself starting to scan the treeline with something beyond mild curiosity. Chickens and ducks are just about the most edible pets you could ever own, as the local wildlife are well aware. Predators can come by land or by air, by night or by day.

Vigilance is key, as this Pekin duck well knows. Any time I see it tilt its head sideways, the better to train a keen eye on the sky above, I will follow its glance upward to find a hawk, vulture or plane passing over.

When our 12 year old finally talked us into getting chickens, and then ducks, I wondered how all the undomesticated nature we'd been cultivating in the backyard would react. Would the poultry intimidate the mourning doves that had hung out next to the minipond at various hours? Would the chickens chow down on beneficial insects as well as the ticks?

Though having these birds in the backyard may be reducing visits by wild birds, their presence has heightened our awareness of wildlife in other ways. Recently, noticing the Pekin duck training an eye skyward, we looked up to see the tiny speck of a hawk hovering high above. Suddenly, the hawk folded its wings and began a slanted, accelerating straight-line dive. As with lightening, we were relieved to see we weren't the targets. It disappeared into the trees several blocks over. None of this we would have seen if not for the duck's signal.

By Night
A year ago, we started with four chickens, and now have two. The first was lost during the one and only night we forgot to close them in the coop. It was very traumatic for my daughter, who had named all four and been giving them loving care. But she worked through the trauma and the sense of responsibility, and the next day was able to channel it into making a beautiful grave with the shape of a chicken fashioned out of bits of rock.

Raccoon or Fisher?
We thought a raccoon had likely done the deed, in part because I found the head of the chicken far from the body. But in ten years I've only seen one wayward raccoon in our yard, and my neighbor reported she had seen something that night that she thought moved more like a fisher than a raccoon. I associate fishers with large tracts of north woods, but an internet search yielded news of their return to New Jersey. They are large members of the weasel family and one of the few predators smart and agile enough to take on porcupines. Princeton's animal control officer, however, offered no encouragement to this speculation that fishers might be afoot in the area.

By Day
Having lost a chicken in the night, we thought they'd still be safe if allowed to run free in the yard by day. This illusion was shattered late in the fall, when lack of foliage had made the yard more exposed, by a Coopers hawk in a mid-afternoon attack. That, too, was traumatic, all the more so because it seemed to sentence the remaining chickens to perpetual confinement in the coop and a small fenced-in run. It didn't help to find a big red-tailed hawk perched fifteen feet above the coop one morning, patiently awaiting breakfast. Word had clearly gotten out.

Since then, however, we've slowly relaxed our vigilance and shifted back to letting them out during the day. A friend with chickens in Kingston said he decided that the happiness of his chickens exploring the yard is worth the risk of an attack, and he's never lost a chicken that way. We've gravitated towards that philosophy, despite an unnerving visit one day from a coopers hawk that brazenly perched on our fence, just forty feet from where we stood, to check out the scene. It flew away before I could take a photo, and hasn't come back.

A couple fish crows also took an interest for a day or two, lingering in the trees above, conversing, trying to make sense of our backyard poultry scene, seeming to look for an angle that would benefit them. Fish crows are the sort of crow that says "uh-uh" all summer, as if telling you that whatever idea you just had is a bunch of hooey.

A week later, still wishing for a photo of a Coopers Hawk, I saw one land on the Westminster Choir College driveway.

It was carrying a small bird, and posed long enough on the pavement for a bit of point-and-shoot documentation,

before flying off in the direction of the crossing guard.

By chance this photo caught the shift in perspective that comes from having chickens, from the urban environmentalist's cultivation and observation of a benign nature to more of a rural farmer's awareness of nature as both magnificent and threatening.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

To Walk a Duck

On January 25, the Princeton Public Library's Environmental Film Festival featured a DUCKumentary with spectacular footage of duck behavior, including a family of wood ducks as they travel through the seasons. 

Related to the above, ducks made a surprise entry into our lives this past fall, when our younger daughter began asking to get ducklings. We made what seemed like compelling arguments against. Winters are cold, ducks are messy, and then there's the question of longterm care. To all these concerns she offered answers gleaned from the internet. She broke down our resistance with her persistence, passion, and finally a sophisticated powerpoint presentation that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Youtube's surprisingly rich offering of poultry videos may also have inspired the request to take one of the ducks, which had grown quickly after emerging from the box they arrived in from California, on a nature walk.

This fleet-footed "runner duck" had no problem keeping up with us, and appreciated the occasional puddle we encountered in Herrontown Woods. I didn't even try to teach it the subtleties of winter-time tree identification. It seemed content just to explore on its own.
Happiness is a duck in the lap and a cell phone in the hand.
Despite having scaled the Princeton Ridge and scurried under and over countless fallen trees, the runner duck led the way back past the Veblen farmstead towards our car. Molly, as this runner duck is called, can be described as liking to take long walks in the woods, frolic in the backyard minipond when it's not frozen, and is considering a career in egg laying. Hopefully we didn't violate any leash laws.