Ducklings have basically taken over my life.
Our story starts about two weeks ago, when we find one of our female Ancona ducks killed and, separately, a freshly hatched baby duckling hanging out under the other broody female.
The next day, new mama duck Minkie takes the single duckling on a grand tour of the yard, quacking all the way. This is all very adorable, but we hear peeping coming from the nest so shoo Minkie and her duckling back to the nest, so mama can watch the rest of her flock.
We assume at this point we don’t see the other ducklings because they are not yet old enough to leave the nest.
Over the course of the day, Minkie becomes increasingly agitated. Basically, she’s pacing and quacking like crazy. She’s not sitting on her nest – she’s trying to leave. And she’s noisy as hell.
All day she does this, leaving the nest, leaving the pen, running around, quacking, returning to the nest and making a terrible racket. We hear lots of peeping, but again, there is only the one duckling trying to follow her. We think maybe she is trying to draw predators away from the nest and her small ducklings.
It turns out Minkie is losing her shit because 5 of her 6 hatched ducklings had fallen into a hidden crawlspace air vent. She’s desperately calling them to follow her, but they can’t come – they are trapped.
This was just one of those crazy situations where there was a vent under a bump out of our house that happened to have a 1-inch gap between the bottom of the bump out and the top of the vent and that vent just happened to be right next to the nest Minkie made.
I discover this vent when my own mama instinct is telling me that it’s just weird for the baby ducklings to be peeping but not following their mom for this long. Eventually I do a low crawl through a duck-sized hole in hardware cloth into Minkie’s nest to try to get a visual on the ducklings. (Minkie did not like this at all.)
With my head in the dirt, I can see the vent, and I call to Nick, “Hey, I think the ducklings might be trapped in here!”
My husband (God, I love this guy) sticks his head down, and goes into Total Man Go Mode.
“Get me the hacksaw!” he demands, laying in the dirt. He then proceeds to hacksaw the vent apart enough to stick his phone into a small hole to do duckling search and rescue.
Once he’s confirmed 5 ducklings are trapped, he hacksaws the vent apart enough for me to slip my arm in the hole and extract the ducklings.
At this point Minkie really calms down, and we have something like a calm, happy duck family. But there are 6 eggs still in the nest. My neighbor, who has a lot of experience with birds, comes over and says, “what about the rest of them?” so we set up an emergency Shell C-Section hospital for the remaining eggs.
2 eggs have pipped but have not progressed, 2 are alive but non-pipped, 1 is developed but dead in the shell and 1 never undeveloped at all.
We help the 4 living ducklings out of their shell, which is a slow and delicate process, and then I monitor them all night long like it’s the Duckling NICU.
After all the ducklings dry off and recover, it’s clear that one is obviously weak and physically deformed and cannot hold its head up to eat or drink or coordinate its leg movements. That one doesn’t make it, but the other three do and we luuuuuuv them.
After some suggestions from the Facebook community, I add the three NICU duckies to the rest of the flock, and they are adopted and cared for right away. No problems. Minkie is now the proud mama of 9 fluffy duckies.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until yesterday, when we found my absolute favorite duckling – the spunky little black one – laying outside, unable to move.
We brought him inside and set up a hospital brooder because he didn’t look good. He couldn’t walk, his head was lolling over to one side and he had periodic tremors. But damnit, this was my favorite duck. I wasn’t giving up on him without a fight.
After consulting Dr. Google I diagnosed this baby as suffering from either Niacin and B vitamin deficiency or some kind of neurological disorder. Not much I could do about a neuro problem, but vitamins I could fix. It was worth a shot.
I asked my husband to swing by the Yuppie Hippie market, and he brought me back brewers yeast (high in Niacin) and a liquid B-vitamin complex. I added the brewer’s yeast to the little duckies feed, and started spoon-feeding him with B-vitamin and Niacin water with a tablespoon.
At first he could not hold his head to drink very reliably, so I brought the water to him for about 6 hours. It was touch and go at first. He seemed to be improving, but then he would have something like a seizure. Very scary.
But last night, he turned a corner! He started to regain his balance and head control. His body movements became increasingly sophisticated, and eventually he was grooming himself and eating and swimming and running as much as any other duckling.
We kept him in the nice warm hospital brooder over night, and this morning I reunited him with his brothers and sisters. He seemed very happy, and they took him in just fine.
Only one problem: he’s small. Noticeably, definitely small. These ducklings are growing so fast, that the 24 or 48 hours of “grow time” he missed while he was sick really shows. His siblings are all putting on fat in their chest, and are taller and sturdier. He looks kinda runty, in the cutest possible way.
So, we are watching very closely. If he seems to slip back, or be unable to pile in under his mom or otherwise fight for the resources he needs, he will come back inside and we will brood him in here. We aren’t giving up on this little one.
Ducks have a higher need for Niacin than chicks, and some ducks are just genetically predisposed to need more Niacin than others. I think the chick crumble we are feeding these ducks is low in Niacin for waterfowl, and this particular duck probably just needs an extra Niacin-rich diet.
None of the other ducklings showed symptoms, but I supplemented everyone’s feed and water, just to be on the safe side.
Quack! Quack! That’s the duckling update for now. Cross your fingers they all thrive – especially that little black one at the front who’s had a rough time of it.26
Good lord, they’re cute! So glad they’ve been rescued and are doing well! Sounds like you’ve been busy! 🙂
Busy but they are so adorable, it’s worth it!
Oh my!! So glad you rescued them! I just had chicks hatch two weeks ago, and one of my chicks didn’t make it. 🙁 I did the same thing, chick ICU, and also supplemented with vitamins and niacin due to neurological signs. My little one didn’t respond, though, I’m thinking it truly was something neurologocal that vitamins couldn’t fix. So sad to lose the little ones. 🙁 I’m glad your duckling pulled through!!
On a garden note, we’ve now got 6 raised beds in, and I’ve got them all planted–they are full of plants from seed and starts… And one by one, things are dying off. I was baffled, and dug out a dead lettuce-and I found wireworms in the roots. Digging down into the bed, all my brand new beds are infested with wireworms!!! I very nearly cried (ok, maybe did a little). Do you have any experience with these? From what I’ve read, beneficial nematodes and potato traps are my best pesticide-free bet…
I have LOTS of experience with these and they are the worst garden beasts I have encountered. I have run into wireworms in my previous garden, but in lower key fashion. My new garden is much worse. My situation was almost exactly like yours last year, fancy new raised beds, with a couple of different loads of dirt. The wireworms came with one of the loads.
The first sign of their presence was the wilted lettuce. You know the beautiful, large lettuce head that you’re going to eat tomorrow, only to come out the next day and it looks like melted wax. This all started happening in about June, things dropping left and right. I’d replant, and they’d kill it.
Last year I sprayed twice with nematodes. To be honest I don’t think that did anything, I think the timing was just right to coincide with the hot weather which causes them to migrate down into the soil. All I could do was try to manage it by distributing pieces of potato around my greens and dig them up and rip the worms apart. I have some major karmic debt from my mass murder of wireworms.
This year I have been aggressive. I brought the chickens to pick around in the bed and help out where they could but mostly I’ve been putting out bait potatoes since probably March, and pulling out wireworms as I find them. Then I’ve raked through my beds a few times and pull out the wireworms. Now that the soil is warming up they are coming to the surface, so I can just push around the dirt with my hands and pull them out. It is a practice in patience and vigilance, and to be honest I don’t think it’s a battle that I can win, but I’m trying. Last night I came home to my first wilted lettuce head and a big fat juicy wire worm…pulled it out and put in a potato piece.
I’d recommend raking through your dirt (moving the first couple of inches of dirt around to find them), and putting in potatoes where you can, mark them with something and every few days pull them out and kill the worms. As you dig around you may come across their adult version, the click beetle. I also smush those. Depending on how far along your greens are, you may want to sacrifice them and treat them as bait by pulling them out as they die to kill the wireworms.
They are a depressing garden pest because it only takes one to kill an entire plant. The only good thing I can say about them is that at least they are bright orange so they’re easy to see.
I may start an online Gardening with Wireworms support group. Somewhere where we can share our experience of seeing our spring hopes and dreams demolished by these little bastards.
Oh, dear, that’s basically exactly where I am right now… The lettuce is going fast, and my seedlings are sparse. I’m trying to decide if I just give up on the raised beds and turn the chickens out on them. I’ve got so much planted right now in them, though… I’d definitely join a support group, I felt like I needed one on Monday when I disvovered them. I hand picked as many as I could find sifting the dirt and gave them to the chickens as treats. Near as I can tell, they came from old dug up sod I used as filler for the beds–I built them hugelkultur style, with wood, old sod, and compost, then veggie mix purchased soil on top of that.
I guess that is one downside of the Hugel beds, if you are using sod as filler it will bring in the beasts.
I don’t know where you are located but here in the PNW we are still a few weeks before the magic May long weekend of planting. So worse case scenario everything is sacrificed, but you could potentially make a pretty good dent in the population by being proactive. Given that the soil is warming up earlier than usual, I would expect most of them to be heading up to the surface, so you could probably spend the next week or so digging around along the top and then reseed where you can in a week or so.
They pretty much only went after my greens last year.
Yeah, I’m in the PNW… I was so thrilled with the early spring, I got everything started a few weeks ago; so yeah, might sacrifice it and start over… Sigh.
Thanks for weighing in, TGod. I’m sorry about your wireworms, Staci. I think the advice you’ve gotten here is the best. While wireworms haven’t been a major pest for me, they seem worse in beds where there is a lot of decomposing organic matter. I’d guess your problems with them will settle down as the hugel matures. Good luck!
So happy little one is doing better. What do you plan on doing with the drakes in the bunch?
Hard to say. I’m not unwilling to cull in theory, but I really don’t know if I’ll have it in me with these guys. The little black one has a free ride forever. 🙂
Congratulations to Team Ducklings! I understand your luuuuuuv and devotion and pray all works out well in the tenuous world of backyard fowl.
Me too! Thanks!
P.S. Should you have to consult Dr. Google again for duckling neurological surgery how-tos, I have complete faith that you and your talented assistants could do it!
Oh my gosh, no. I looked up caponizing duckings to see if it was possible to keep boys but without the pesky boy bits, and found info on roosters (I don’t think you can even do that to ducks). Caponizing roosters involves a scalpel, an incision under the 2nd rib and a wound spreader. I was like, “No! Way too freaky!” I’ll leave the actual animal surgery to my sister, the vet! 🙂
Awww, babies! I’m so happy they’re all doing well. Good luck, black duck!
By the way, you inspired me to give my broody hen some chicks, and it totally worked. The only problem is getting York engrossed in chicken tv!
Chicken TV is the best (and Duck TV too!) Enjoy mama hen – they are amazing with the babies.
Homebrew Husband says
I pretty much grew up on those great 1970s rescue shows like “Emergency!” where there every episode seemed to feature a dramatic “get the jaws of life!” moment where the heroes had to cut a woman in labor out of a burning bus or some other preposterous setup. So this was familiar ground, in a way, just with ducklings.
How are the eggs from Frances? I guess still in the incubator? Do you have any way of telling how many of her eggs that you slipped under Minkie were able to hatch? I guess by the numbers at least one of hers is alive. Maybe that is little black duck’s story and genetically why he might have needed a different amount of b vitamin?
Still in the incubator. Candling shows them all clearly viable and developing except one where I’m just not quite sure. I don’t know which ducklings might have been Frances’, but statistically 3 should be. Genetically, Ancona coloration is fascinating. Here’s additional info. Minkie is a chocolate tricolor, the drake is probably a Blue, and Frances was likely a blue as well. The only way to get a black marked duckling from these combos, as far as I have learned, would be blue plus blue. Based on that, I’m pretty sure that the little black one IS Frances’ offspring. I think your theory on the higher needs for Niacin and B from his lineage is probably spot on.
Our lady turkey hatched seven little turkey poults at just about the same time as your little loves – it’s been great to watch the parallel progress and commiserating about the stress! We read that turkey poults need game bird or “poultry” starter instead of chick starter for exactly the potential vitamin deficiency you described. (The book recommended supplementing with brewer’s yeast if chick starter was the only option.) I wonder if it would be helpful/easy/less stressful to feed them that starter instead? (I dunno, this is our first time around the block, too.) Urban farming is so freaking scary and amazing at the same time!!!
I’ve heard turkey poults do everything they can to die – that sounds like MAJOR stress to me! We looked for turkey or game bird feed but our local place only carries chick feed. 🙁
Ieneke van Houten says
Ducks are so maternal you forget they are not, like us mammals, equipped with built-in perfect food. Your devotion is admirable. As Brian Brett so brilliantly puts it in “Trauma Farm”, “if you have livestock, you
have dead stock.
Thank’s Ien. It’s true, and it’s terrible. I’m not a vegan, so I’m ethically ok with animals being eaten, but while they are in my charge, I feel a huge responsibility to do my best for them. The feeling that you have let down an animal is the worst.
Say your barn cat
(who has an actual useful, necessary job managing the rodent population in a 50-stall barn…not just a random house cat terrorizing the bird population)
delivers a wild duckling to the arena.
Healthy, spry, not injured….no sign of mama duck.
Is there someone in the greater-Seattle area we could call about that?
This is the info you need: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation/baby_birds.html
If that doesn’t help, I’ll see if my mama duck will adopt your duckling as long as it isn’t too old (like a week maybe?) But your duckling would be best rehabbed into the wild.
I keep Complex Vit B sub-lingual in my duckling/duck emergency kit. We currently have 10 Ancona, four Saxony and one lonely Cayuga/mix who have decided that my silkie hen is mamma. Pretty funny to watch them all try to get under her and she just patiently sits there. If she could talk I’m pretty sure she’d be saying “I’m not sure where you all came from and I’m pretty sure you all will not fit but we’ll give it a try”. Bless her heart lol
My reliably broody hen looks like she’s gone broody again. I’m debating slipping the ducking eggs in the incubator under her. Gotta love those broody hens!
oops forgot to add our two female and five teenagers (all Ancona). We have had a duck explosion!
Aren’t the Ancona’s wonderful?
I love your duck and chicken posts! I’m still at least two years away from having birds of my own, but you’re definitely helping me start to understand the emotional roller-coaster involved. 🙂
Thanks – I’m glad it comes across as a roller-coaster because that’s how it feels! It’s a wonderful experience overall, though. Good luck in two years! 🙂
Squeeee! So glad you were able to rescue and recover these cute little dudes and dudettes!
Thanks Amy – I’m truly smitten. 🙂
Oh, you made me laugh! What with the Duckling NICU and your admirable HomeBrew Husband to the rescue, this was a thrilling post!
Seriously, though, congratulations on a real life rescue. I hope they all make it.
What a great read! So so happy you were able to help your little ducklings! I hope they all continue to do well!
(PS – just read your most recent post from today and admittedly I’m one of those who has been reading your blog for quite awhile but rarely commented. Happy to support you in whatever way I can, but I totally understand the need for the ads. I know you wish you didn’t have to, but it really is understandable. You bring SO much to this crazy world of the internet, and I always love reading your blog when I get the chance!)
Seriously…thanking you..for sharing all this duck drama including all the photos and video. Makes one think just how precious life is…even for a little duckling!