Duckling disaster 2. Getting hen-hatched ducklings accepted back by the Mother Duck(s).

There is no written rule in my experience, as to time limits on introducing chicks, ducks, goslings, quail or baby pigeons to a mother bird. Hens, for instance will adopt babies at any age and even just babysit small pigeons, whilst the parent birds are out foraging. However, this is my experience with my own, relatively tame and trusting flock and not that with my neighbour's killer attack ducks!

Ducklings in a paddling pool

Feeding them up

The first thing to do was to get everyone up to speed, as the seven ducklings with the mother ducks, were a day or in one case, a full two days older. I also like to give  my chicks the option to feed and drink as soon as they are hatched and want to. I let the mother make the decisions but I always give them plenty of choice. With ducks I also like the food to be very wet, after all that is the way they feed naturally. Our basic poultry food is sprouted, so that was a good start but I also gave them the remains of the breakfast porridge and a lot of shredded lettuce.

Ducklings eating organic food with their Cochin bantam mother

I gave our seven ducklings the run of the kitchen floor, quite literally and as the day progressed they got more and more steady on their feet. In the morning I had been quite concerned that the ducklings seemed very 'floppy' rather like beanbags and therefore to be much too unsteady for the meadow and uneven ground. I accept though that was wishful thinking too. They were so lovely to have around, if it had been left to Pearl and I....

Foot problems and linguistics

The only real difficulty I experienced with Pearl, was that she didn't understand the ducklings' feet. Actually this has happened before when I have had smooth legged mother hens hatch Cochins - the former pull at the feathers on the feet and legs of the chicks. I have also had a hen try to 'clean off' mottled patterning in the down on a baby pigeon. None of these problems seem to persist though, they seem to be a spontaneous reaction to something unusual, which is then just as promptly dismissed. Hens learn very quickly and accept new things and remember them. I always speak to a hen and explain and I'm sure the tone of voice helps in her comprehension. After all, motherhood is stressful enough without hatching a completely different species and with webbed feet to boot!

Ducklings hatched with an organically raised Cochin bantam

One thing that really amazed me with Pearl, was that her voice patterns changed, or maybe it was her language, as she began to speak in a high pitched duck-like way. She wasn't exactly quacking but I got a sneaking idea if we had kept the ducklings any longer that might have happened!

In fact Pearl was an absolute star, she's just over a year old and has never had any experience of hatching chicks before, though she had helped out keeping some eggs warm during an emergency.

Going home to Mother(s)

After a good day feeding up, we decided we should start to repatriate the ducklings late that same afternoon to the neighbour's garden. We thought that the first duckling hatched would be the best one to attempt the experiment, as he was nearer to the other ducklings in age. He also seemed very agile on his feet and ready for the rigours of outdoor life. We were afraid if we kept them another night, they would be so imprinted on us and in particular on Pearl, that they would neither accept nor be accepted by, the mother ducks.

Mother duck on the attack whilst introducing ducklings
It was a lovely sunny, warm day, the temperature was just right and everything augured well for a successful outcome.

With everyone walking well and well-fed, I judged we were ready to make the first attempt at introductions.

Of course, we reckoned without crazy Mamma Duck and her hench-woman.

Duckling emerging from shell
Duckling hatched in wood cookerI don't know how I could have forgotten the previous year's duck hatch, when our neighbour's duck deserted just two remaining ducklings hatching in the nest. We put those eggs in the woodcooker, still warm from breakfast and they hatched and fluffed up in no time but giving them back to the mother was a nightmare. She was vicious and almost drew blood on my hand, before Andy caused a diversion and I finessed them under her. There is so much to be said for getting your birds to trust you even if you don't want them tame, as such.

Newly hatched duckling drying out

Yet another reason to have a huge cast iron cooker, with residual heat for hatching ducks!

duckling rejects biological mother

These mother ducks seemed to have taken a personal dislike to us and obviously thought, rather than returning their offspring, duly hatched, we were about to make off with more ducklings. They gave such a spirited performance, that not surprisingly the poor duckling, being used to the calming influence of gentle Pearl, didn't want to be adopted by these two crazy feathered fiends. The mothers wanted him but he just kept running away.
Duckling under stress

I've edited the film so you don't get the full effect but in the end I decided he was getting too stressed out, even just the deafening noise was enough. Then of course I had to get him back, which with a belligerent attack duck after me, was no mean feat.

Introducing ducklings hatched with a hen back to the mother duck
I did have the idea that, perhaps, as this duckling had hatched the day before and he had thus been the longest with Pearl, he had imprinted on her the most. However, I also thought if we introduced two ducklings together, then they would at least have each other as a calming presence in a sea of strange faces and mad mothers. The next duckling out was the one who had been in the dried-out egg, so I considered that, although a few hours younger, he would be suitably resilient.

Therefore, even though there was still a lot of aggression towards us, with each other to hold on to, the ducklings' introductions went much smoother.

Creating a paddling pool for ducks

The next two ducklings were a breeze. We had also taken the extra precaution of filling up their 'mudhole' so they could have an extra swimming and foraging area.

Introducing 3 hen-hatched ducklings back to their duck mother

Letting the last three go though was rather sad for both Pearl, who had however an abandoned pigeon to look after and I who had so enjoyed having them.

Now, if you'd like to sit back and watch the film.

It was wonderful to see all fourteen ducklings together and happy in the sunshine. So that was that. A lovely experience, except for the last bit, which had been a bit fraught. Little did we know, however, that we hadn't yet finished with the duckling disaster hatch.

RELATED POST :  Duckling Disaster Part 1

Cochin hen with duckling she hatched
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All the very best,

© 2015 Sue Cross

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