We’ve never had ducks before, nor did we think for a minute we’d ever have them until a couple of weeks ago. In the three days they’ve been home we’ve been observing and loving everything about them. We have yet to be able to tell them apart because their adult feathers haven’t come in, but the ‘quacker’ is always the female, and the one who has a hoarse squeak is the male… that’s the only way to know which one is which at this point. I was surprised to learn that male ducks don’t quack, and that many urban duck owners decide to keep only a flock of males due to the loud quacks of females. Our female has officially been named Phoebe. Yes, she’s Phoebe Peebles and we love the sound of that! Phoebe only quacks when I walk into the pen and try picking her up. It’s an adorable sound. Outside of that, she’s been even more quiet than the chickens.
How are the chickens adjusting to having new flock members? Let’s just say that Jasmine seems to be the only one upset by it. She’s our smallest hen (a Barred Rock), and I consider her almost a runt. For such a little hen she’s a great egg layer, and her eggs are normal size, but she’s at the bottom of the pecking order. The established order clearly goes Marigold –>Petunia –>Jasmine. This may explain why she’s trying so hard to make sure she’s at least above the ducklings. The other two couldn’t care less, outside of a few warning squawks when they go inside the coop at night, they leave the ducklings alone. Jasmine likes to enlarge her chest, spread her wings and intimidate them when they get too close. Of course, Mortimer and Phoebe just get out of the way. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic evolves as the ducklings grow, and eventually tower over the chickens. Runner ducks can be pretty tall, and they grow up very fast.
Observations? 1) Being new to ducks, I’m most struck by how affectionate they are with one another. They love to cuddle and snuggle up together, and even wrap necks around one another like swans. Their bond is very sweet, and we can see how intensely social they are as animals. Chickens are very social, too, but I have yet to see this type of cuddly affection. Although I have seen our hens grooming each other on occasion, and they always stay close to each other. 2) Maybe it’s because they’re Indian Runners and don’t waddle like other ducks, but they’re far more clumsy than than chickens. Runner ducks barely have wings to keep balance like chickens and other ducks. I always thought of ducks as graceful animals, but Phoebe and Mortimer slip around on their flippers, falling down, making the chickens appear more composed than ever. 3) They’re obsessed with water. Of course, I knew they loved to swim but I didn’t expect them to be standing by and wading through the water bowl so much. We have a heated dog bowl for water in the Winter to prevent freezing, and they get inside often. They also stand next to it and dunk their heads under water all the time. It’s how they clean themselves since they don’t have the sharp beak that chickens do for grooming. They also have a large steel trough full of water, but they won’t venture that way in the snow. We placed them in the water on their first day, and they had a blast until we realized they couldn’t get out. I’m not sure if it was their size or lack of coordination at this young age, but they may need a more shallow pool.
We’re considering separate housing for the ducks at night just because of the square footage in the coop. They will be much bigger in a few weeks, and with four more chickens coming (technically 3 1/2 considering the fluffy Bantam will be so tiny) we may want to let the hens have their own space. By no means do I plan to have a huge building project for the ducks. They only need a 3′ X 3′ box to snuggle up in the straw and sleep, and it will set at nearly ground level. That’s the 4th observation we’ve had about ducks- they’re ground sleepers, and love to just lay down on their tummies and hang out that way. Chickens are up walking almost the whole day, unless they’re doing a dirt bath or laying an egg. They rarely lay down, and always sleep on roosting poles. A little box with a door on the ground would be a nice, private ‘love shack’ for our sweet couple when they want to have romantic evenings. Seriously, Mortimer and Phoebe seem like soul mates, and we’re told ducks get it on almost daily. Can’t wait to see that, and explain things to the kids… it will be an interesting conversation! For now, we’re enjoying the innocence of their ducklinghood.