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Ducks attacked

May 1, 2012

We lost a darling duo of ducks Sunday evening, but their disappearance was not without a trace – and not without forewarning. We’ve been on alert for the last couple of weeks. First, I discovered a young fisher scrambling away from the upper duck house two weeks ago. The low furry creature was illuminated by my headlights late at night and I was momentarily frozen in amazement as it sort of bounded and sort of undulated across the driveway. I quickly regained my wits and chased it with my vehicle through the brush, but he was long gone. I wondered if he had been responsible for the disappearance of a drake (male duck) a few weeks earlier, but as the ducks are free-range and always locked in tight at night, it could just have easily been the work of a fox, hawk, coyote or hobo.

Then, less than a week ago, a fellow chicken-keeper called to tell me she had seen a coyote coming out of the woods at the southern end of our land with a “big Buff Orpington chicken in its mouth.” It was 6:22 in the evening, and I was out in the backyard weeding the garden. My 4-year-old was in the front yard washing five-gallon buckets. I quickly performed a head-count and found all our chickens and ducks accounted for, but I was a little unnerved at the boldness of this kill and the coyote’s ability to move through the woods without anyone noticing. I think my neighbors are missing a chicken. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for coyotes during the day – something we don’t always have to consider as they tend to move through our area at night, just about every night.

Apparently I haven’t gotten used to the idea of smart predators winnowing our flocks during the day, because I left the property for two hours Sunday evening. When I returned 7 of our 9 ducks had settled into the lower house and the two young hens (female ducks) were gone. This hit illustrates the danger of the helpless operating outside the flock. Not only are the ducks unarmed, they also don’t fly particularly well as our domesticated waterfowl have had that escape tactic bred out of them. This helps farmers keep their ducks from flying away with wild flocks, but it stinks when they’re being attacked. Most varieties of domesticated ducks, including our Buffs, are descended from Mallards and nest on the ground. Muscovy ducks, on the other hand, roost in trees and have claws on their toes to help them grasp branches. A tree-climbing duck might be just the thing for this neighborhood.

While the flock doesn’t provide much protection for its individuals from a big, powerful predator operating in the daylight hours, our flock tends to stay very close to our house, as in hanging out on our front doorstep. We have an outside spigot there that invariably develops a leak in the y-connector and the ducks ignore their deep, clean pools in favor making a muddy mess right in front of the house. The hens that we lost were bonded together, being part of a younger flock that was pared of its excess drakes, and they often retreated in the afternoon to their spot in the upper house – even as all the other ducks remained hundreds of feet away in the lower yard.

They were off on their own, a pair of sitting ducks, and nature took its course. I felt terrible, wished I had just penned them all in together, and cursed the various elements that came together to take them apart. And I was mad that I didn’t get to eat them, if anyone was going to have that pleasure. I’ll bet those ‘yotes didn’t even make stock! I also recognized that the natural world is brutal, and being prey is sometimes the price of relative freedom. We’ve had them on grass since they were a few weeks old, and we’ve always allowed them the benefits and risks of  a free-range life. It’s easier, logistically, to pen them up, but they are healthier, cleaner and seem happier when out and about. Constant foraging in the woods and yards also provides them an excellent diet, which makes their eggs and meat healthier, and they gets tons of exercise. (For example, pastured eggs can contain as much as ten times more omega-3 fatty acids than those of factory hens. Read more about this here.)

With nothing else to do about the duck disappearance, I searched for clues and found a few. The fact that both disappeared so completely makes me think there may have been multiple assailants. I submit for your perusal evidence photos from the crime scene.

Photo A: Black arrow points to paw print, note more prints above the arrow. Red arrow points to blood. Blue arrows point to arcing wing-prints (hard to decipher here, but unmistakeable if you’ve seen them before.) Note the relative roundness of the print compared to the more elongated prints in photo B, which follows. Maybe it was the young fisher or even the crepuscular red fox.

Photo B: paw prints in the drive east of area shown in photo A. Note the tracks are made over the tire tracks. Suburban traveled down the drive at 7:30 pm, but may have rode the hump and not left track on the sand.

Photo C: Raccoon tracks over the tire tracks. Note elongated toes of the rear paw on bottom track. Highly unlikely raccoons attacked this early in the evening, but if one duck was taken and one scrambled to a hiding place in the woods, another predator like this one could have removed the other hen duck from the property in the wee hours of the morning.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2012 10:47 am

    Sorry for your loss Bethany. We recently lost a darling hen from hawk….

  2. May 1, 2012 1:33 pm

    Poor ducks 😦 Hopefully their end was swift.

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  1. Cape Native’s Missing Ducks | Cape Cod Wildlife Calling

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