He nearly drowned me, the clumsy oaf. I had chosen him for his overall fit appearance and good looks. He was resplendent, flashing his bright green feathers in the sun as he circled me. I had only to put up with him for a few minutes to get what I wanted, which was healthy ducklings. The bachelor boys hung around but had no chance. I would make my nest and remain independent, hoping for a large brood to raise.
Swimming carefully through the waterfront reeds, I was careful to avoid the blackbird nests, of which there were several due to the promiscuity of the red winged male. He was territorial, fiercely swooping and threatening anything that casually floated by. He was currently engaged in a battle of wills, his opponent being a Great Blue Heron that stood poised at water’s edge on its stilt-like legs, hoping for a frog meal, an unlikely event given the raucous noises emitting from the blackbird.
With the Redwing thus occupied, I glided in and around the reeds and finally found just the right sheltered spot, although it was close to the human’s dock. I did not see this as a problem, as my trust had developed with the human since the last harsh winter when she had provided daily food for all the lake creatures. A nebulous bond had formed and I had been fed directly from the human’s hands and felt no fear. What I did not like were the two resident dogs. I would fly to the rooftop and peer over at them lying on the house deck. Oh, we had a connection all right; it was a sense between us that humans had long lost. Their strong but silent message was, “Don’t come into our space, and we will allow your territory undisturbed on the lawn and water.” And so it was.
Fourteen ducklings hatched, and I was soon swimming with a feathered flotilla behind me. They were all good swimmers and quick at learning lake procedures. There were many predators eyeing my young ones, ranging from large, underwater ravenous fish to the treetop eagles that spotted everything moving from their vantage point on high. The ducklings knew to stay close to me, but I couldn’t protect them all. Last year, only four survived to adulthood.
Occasionally, I sat beside the human on the lawn with my ducklings tucked safely under my wings. I trusted her and gathered from her strange noises that she had named me Dora. What kind of a name was that for a mature Mallard like me? I would quack out softly now and again to acknowledge her presence and keep the undercover ducklings in line. At times, I had to issue warnings to some of the Coots, who were getting too close as they hopped about on lily pads. Being all black, they were not that attractive; as well, they seemed to think they could walk on water. Darn fools! Suddenly, we both spotted something large and white on the far shore.
“Wonder what that is?” questioned the human.
The blob came closer. It was a type of duck that Dora had never seen before. All white body, yellow beak and stubby orange-coloured legs. I glanced out onto the lake to see if the drake had noticed her, but no, as promiscuous as he was, the white one was too fat for him.
“Oh-oh,” said the human, “looks like an escapee from the farm up the road.”
I had been unaware of the farm ducks that were bred for human consumption. They could not fly, having had their wings clipped. They could waddle for short distances but, with their gross body weight, their legs could barely support them. However, with instinctive behaviour, this one was swimming.
“I’ll call her Daisy,” said the human.
I soon re-entered the water, softly quacking to my fluffy, yellow and brown coloured brood to follow.
“What a beautiful sight,” said the human aloud.
I looked back to see her rise to return to the house, when suddenly the white duck emerged from the weeds. It was clear the duck had been raised on a farm, as she was not afraid of the human and nonchalantly started pecking at grass roots.
“I’m going to call you Daisy,” the human said to the white duck. “You remind me of one from comic books, but without a polka dotted dress or those silly, yellow pumps she always wore. A natural beauty, that’s you.”
Leaving Daisy, the woman entered her cottage. She knew she should phone the neighbouring farms, to determine who was missing a duck. But reluctance came as she watched Daisy through the window enjoying her new found freedom. The woman did not want to let go of Daisy, as by the size of her, it was clear she faced imminent death. The soft white feathers would then be plucked from her body, with the final indignity of being roasted and basted with her own succulent fat. The farmers were known at the market for their domesticated duck.
She decided that Daisy, as a successful escapee, should have her freedom and exhibit as much normal behaviour as possible even though she could not fly. Swimming in the lake was much better than waddling around a dusty farmyard, where the only water available was for drinking. Feeling good with her decision, she went outside to sit on the deck with her dogs and enjoy viewing the lake and its inhabitants. And there was Daisy floating right alongside Dora. Might she be feeling maternal, having no ducklings of her own? The human knew she was being anthropomorphic, but she so enjoyed watching the ducks and imagining their lives in a more perfect world free from predators, including man.
Spring and then summer passed, with Dora and Daisy daily visiting the woman, who hand-fed them grain every morning. Dora’s surviving offspring had gone off on their own and were apparently part of the mixed group of ducks paddling in and around the lake.
Winter arrived and parts of the lake were frozen over. The ducks congregated at one end where there was a section of open water, and then daily walked over the ice to the human’s lawn area.
She was feeding the large flock now, as well Daisy who happily waddled along with all the others. Some of the Mallards would fly in and she was amused to watch their skidding landings. The lake was not a de-iced runway!
And then one day, it happened. The ducks had left their sheltered water area and were walking on the ice toward the human’s place. A large, mature eagle was circling the densely packed group looking for an opening. The ducks started squawking and increased their pace. The hungry eagle took a chance dive but his talons came up empty. However, this was too close for the ducks comfort and they rose en masse to fly to safety. Daisy futilely flapped her useless clipped wings, but was powerless to fly and now found herself alone on the ice. The eagle didn’t miss on his second dive. Later that morning, the woman was wondering why no ducks had arrived for their morning feed. Looking out the windows, she noticed white feathers scattered here and there on her lawn. Her reaction was instant as she surmised what had happened to her Daisy duck.
“Oh no, oh no,” she softly moaned.
Her emotions ran from chastising herself for the winter feeding of the flock, to gratefully acknowledging her decision that had allowed Daisy a period of time to live naturally. She felt herself to be somehow favoured living by a small lake, and privileged to have shared time and trust with other creatures. She knew it was time to move on, as employment beckoned in the city. She would finish the winter and prepare for new beginnings in the spring. She was already feeling deep pangs of loss as she thought about leaving her cottage sanctuary and the ducks.
Moving day arrived. Her truck was loaded with what appeared a lifetime of paraphernalia as well her excited dogs. She was leaving a large sack of chick scratch for the new owners. They feigned interest and promised to feed the ducks during inclement weather. All the woman could do was hold onto this vague promise, as the cottage and land were no longer hers.
Many months later, Dora returned from southern climes and decided to swim by the old place and maybe spot the kind human. There were two strange humans on the deck and a very large dog, which bounded right down the dock towards her. Taking no chances, she arose straight up from the water and was immediately on the fly. Intuitively she assessed that the new humans and their dog would not provide a safe place for herself or her fellow ducks. She would find safer nesting sites on the more remote side of the lake. Dora never returned to her old haunts nor did she ever befriend and sit with a human again.
I slowly adjusted to city life, but often thought of my “pet” ducks. I vowed to return there one day and I do frequently, but sadly, only in my dreams.