Saturday, 25 May 2013

Ducks in the summertime

I've gone to my parents' house for the long weekend, mostly for IKEA-related reasons. This Easter my father, whom my mother says has never quite got over being an 11-year-old boy, went a bit crazy and bought huge numbers of fertilised eggs to hatch out. Also his silver pheasant has been laying a lot, and he's been hatching those out too. As a result we have a pen full of adolescent chickens, quails, and runner ducks, a pen full of silver and golden pheasants which are about at the older child stage, incubators full of turning eggs, and a set of six silver pheasants which hatched out yesterday evening. This morning I helped my dad move them from the incubator into a cardboard box in his study, because he's done his back in. They really are amazing when they're that little, with long legs and big feet which must have taken up a lot of the egg space, and scrawny bodies which join the legs to bulgy-eyed heads. They peep and peep because they want something. When I put my hands down into the cardboard box to put in a water-dish (mostly filled with stones, so they don't drown themselves) they immediately decided that my hands were what they wanted. I sat there for about a quarter of an hour with six sleepy chicks piled onto one hand; if I moved at all they would fall off and then scramble back on making loud noises. Eventually I managed to persuade them that the space under the heat lamp was a better bet, once it had warmed up a little. But what particularly charmed me was that in this time one of the chicks hopped down from my hand, ran off to a corner, relieved itself, and then ran back and fell asleep on my hand again.

Of course it doesn't do to get attached. This is sort of one of the big problems at the heart of being human -- you shouldn't get too attached to many things, but then if you're not attached to anything how alive are you? When I was eleven and had just started a new school I remember deciding that the answer was not to love anyone or anything (I was also experimenting with not believing in their existence, having come across the word solipsism goodness knows where). I tried really hard for a few days but found that it just wasn't possible. (I was a strange child but then again I think probably most children are strange, really.) Out of those six chicks, will three make it to adulthood? Others will die casually and unexpectedly of stupid things, or nothing. When I got here on Thursday evening my dad took me out to see the pen of younger pheasants. They have two heat lamps, but they do not necessarily have the sense to go under the heat lamps when they are cold, and one was lying stiff in a corner, in just the place where my father had found one dead earlier that day. I saw its eyelids flutter when another chick trod on it, so I picked it up and warmed it with my hands. It felt quite dead at first, but I took it inside and it started peeping and moving more. This was the point at which I wondered whether I had done a cruel thing, because it wasn't able to stand up alone, and it occurred to me that it might not regain the use of its legs. My mother said that yesterday morning all the chicks were running around happily. Two died during the day. I don't know if mine lived or died, but at least it isn't stuck there crippled, waiting for my father (or more likely my mother, who is tougher) to euthanise it. Nature is bloody depressing sometimes.

On the other hand, an actual wild duck decided to nest by our pond this year. She found herself a spot where she was so well camouflaged that you could look right at her for a while without seeing her, and she hatched out eight ducklings on Tuesday. My parents put an old polystyrene surfboard, with an improvised anchor, in the middle of the pond so that they have a retreat from the local cats, foxes, and badgers. We expect she'll try to take them to a bigger piece of water at some point, but an attempt she made to leave on Thursday went badly wrong when one of the ducklings managed somehow to get stuck in a ten-inch-high empty flower pot. My parents heard the duck quacking and quacking and went out to see what was wrong, so they were able to rescue the duckling. She hasn't tried to leave again since.

Every now and then the drake turns up. My father represents this as him visiting his family, but it's hard to be sentimental about ducks when you've seen Ze Frank's True Facts about the Duck.

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