Everything's Just Ducky At Our Place

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2021  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo of two saxony ducklings.
A few years back I went to the street market to get my week's supply of fruit and veg, and what did I see but the Chicken Lady, set up under a shady tree.

She had several cages of chickens and a cage with a dozen or so ducklings: three sooty hybrids, two large Muscovys and some cream and tan ones that I believed to be Saxony ducks. For some time I have wanted to own some of this breed, despite a friend's comment, "Saxonys--aren't they the sort that come to your village to plunder and pillage?"

I stepped aside and called my husband to ask if he'd mind if I got some ducklings. Gene said to do what I thought best, a sneaky way of sheeting home the responsibility for possible future disasters. Undaunted, I told the woman I'd have two Saxony ducks. "That is, ducks, not drakes--females, not males." I said. (You may think this was unnecessary explaining, but the first time I acquired ducks, all four of them turned out to be male. You don’t get many eggs from drakes.)

She reached into the rather crumpled wire cage and hauled out one of the ducklings. "I haven't sexed them yet," she said.

"Well, can you do it now? I'd really like ducks," I said.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a length of red silk cord, at the end of which dangled a crystal pendant.

She held the pendant over the little creature for about 90 seconds. Neither duckling nor crystal moved at all. She looked at me. I looked at her. The three other people who were waiting for service shuffled their feet and looked expectant. I finally said, "I think she looks quite feminine, I'll have her."

Chicken Lady popped the tiny bird into a gin carton and slashed a few holes in it—the carton--with a sizeable pocket knife, the sort you'd carry if you thought you might have to remove stones from your mastodon's feet while you were crossing the Bering Strait land bridge.

Grabbing another duckling from the batch of now hysterical water fowl, she said, "Probably male." This time she didn't bother with the crystal. "Better to have a pair, anyway."

"OK," I said, handed over the asking price and bore the shrieking ducklings away in triumph.

Passersby gave me strange looks as I walked back to my car, either because of the gin carton or because I was talking to it in soothing tones and telling it we would be home soon and not to be so upset, everything will be just fine, you'll like it there.

Driving home with the windows open due to the pong of baby duck poo I wondered if I had done the right thing, but it was too late now.  I didn't think Chicken Lady gave refunds.

Once home I left the shivering, queeping, slowly-melting-under-the-pressure-of-duck-diarrhea box under a shady tree while I hoed out the aviary that usually serves as the hen coop. It had been vacant since a neighborhood dog did away with my hens, but I thought it would do as a duck nursery. I scattered a lot of new dry mulch around at the back, put down fresh sand at the front, and filled up a large terracotta saucer with water. I then carefully opened the box and left it on its side in the coop so the little ducks could come out.

They decided the gin box was home, and at first did not want to leave it. After an hour or so they ventured out and settled themselves in a patch of damp sand and set up a loud queeping.

They paid no attention to the water bowl or the dish of food that I had prepared for them. I began to worry that they were too young, that I shouldn't have bought them. Suppose they didn't know how to eat, or find their way to water without their mother? They were much too skittish to be herded to the water and I feared I might step on them or hurt them in the narrow confines of the aviary. I decided to leave them alone for a while and await developments.

I went back to the house and expressed my fears that the little ducks might die of thirst. "Maybe I should ring Chris, ask her advice," I suggested. Gene counter-suggested that my sister wouldn't appreciate a call at what would be for her three o'clock in the morning. Good point; I'd have to wait until at least six before ringing the other side of the world in search of advice.

Just after sundown Gene went out to lock up the shed. He didn't come back for a while, and when he did he was laughing.

"What's so funny?"

"I shone the torch into the aviary to see if your little ducks had settled for the night. There was no sign of them, and I was about to come and report that they'd somehow managed to escape when I heard little sleepy duck noises."

" …And?"

"And I don't think you need fear that they will die of thirst--they're both asleep in the water dish."

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