Friday, March 11, 2011

Ducks have started laying again, and a drake goes missing

Our wonderful Khaki Campbell and Blue Swedish ducks have started laying eggs again, after their usual mid-winter break. We've just been getting one egg a day, though, which makes me suspect that one or more of them are laying somewhere other than in their coops. (I guess we'll find out in a month or so, when a duck comes walking into the yard followed by a troop of ducklings.) Maybe this coming weekend's shift to Daylight Savings Time will make a difference? (Ha. As if you aren't all perfectly aware of my opinion about DST!)

As you probably remember, the Alder Wood Bistro loves our duck eggs, so they are happy to see them coming in. The higher viscosity of the egg white, compared with chicken eggs, makes duck eggs a good choice for recipes that call for separating and beating the whites, such as the Bistro's flourless brownie (Chocolate Bliss).

The other day, the ducks headed down the hill to the bog, one of our two large ponds. The ice that covers the bog for most of the winter (it's in a low area that gets little sun during the short winter days) had finally started melting, and a small part of the bog was clear. The ducks spent much of the afternoon happily splashing, dabbling, and fraternizing with the seasonal population of wild Mallards and Mergansers.

During their frolic on the bog, I heard a lot of noise coming from that direction, and it seemed to me that it was some kind of alarm or alert call. As we had seen bobcats twice just the day before, I grabbed a gun and headed down toward the bog. The ducks were indeed on high alert, but although I walked around for quite a while, I didn't see any trails of feathers  that would indicate a cat attack. I decided not to worry about it at the time.

That night, though, I noticed a duck was missing. (They had come up the hill again about an hour before dark.) They were just going into their coops when I saw this, and I didn't get a close enough look to see if it was a duck or a drake. Since the ducks had started laying, I thought it was slightly possible that they had a nest out in the bushes somewhere and had accumulated a clutch. This usually happens at least once a year, but generally more in the late spring and summer months. Anyway, keeping in mind the alarm calls of that afternoon, I thought it more likely that a duck had gotten snatched by a bobcat, or possibly an eagle.

The next morning I took a closer look at the ducks (who had stayed up in the yard rather than go to the bog), and saw that one of the Blue Swedish drakes was the missing one.The fact that the other ducks weren't inclined to go swim in the pond seems to confirm that it was a predator attack. Usually bobcats and cougars leave a trail of feathers behind as they retreat with a bird, but so far I haven't found the trail.

We love our ducks, and their eggs, and it's always upsetting to lose a bird. Fortunately we have lost very few ducks to predators, and it seems that the ducks are smart enough to stay away from the dangerous area now. We're thankful that they do come back to their coops at night, where we know they are safe from the nocturnal predators.

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