THE DUCK SIDE OF THE SIMS FAMILY


Prelude

On Monday, April 14, 1997, a raccoon raided the nest of "our" duck, eating the last 2 of the original 9 eggs. This was only 4 days before hatching, according to our estimates. (See extensive details and pictures.) We assumed that was the end of the duck's tail, whoops, tale. But ...

Duck Tail - Round 2

Monday, April 28: Discovered two eggs in a new nest, on the south side of the same small tree under which Mrs. Duck had nested with her first 9 eggs. Still hurting from the loss of the nine eggs in the first round, Mary and I decided not to get too excited about the discovery, and did not publicize the news.

Tuesday, April 29 through Wednesday, May 7: The egg count grew to 10! It seemed that Mrs. Duck began incubating a day or so before the 10th egg was laid this time. We calculated a hatching date around June 4 or 5.






Monday, May 19, 9:30pm: The raccoon returned. We heard the duck quacking loudly, checked, and found six eggs had been taken by the raccoon. We watched Mrs. Duck as she picked up broken egg shell by broken egg shell, jumped into the pool, carried them to the middle of the pool, and dropped them. As Mary shined the flashlight on the nest to help Mrs. Duck find the broken eggs, Jim fished out the broken shells with the pool skimmer. Just as we finished, Mrs. Duck jumped back into the pool and started quacking vigorously again. She had noticed before we had, that the raccoon had returned and was standing back by the diving board. I chased the racoon up the magnolia tree and then over the fence. It didn't return, that night.


Tuesday, May 20: In a light drizzle that evening, I erected a 3-foot-high wire fence around the tree/nest, leaving only the sides facing the water open.

Wednesday, May 21, 6:15am: Mrs. Duck woke us up. We hurried out to again find the raccoon threatening the nest, but this time, it was stymied by the fence. The raccoon looked like it was considering jumping into the pool to get around the fence before we drove it off. Later that day, daughter Melia and I added another 3-feet to the top of the fence.

Thursday, May 22, 1:15am: Again, Mrs. Duck woke us up with her quacking, alerting us again to the raccoon. Comfortable that I had time, I took a flash picture of the raccoon, but couldn't get close enough to it for a decent shot, before it escaped over the fence again. Still 4 good eggs in the nest.

Tuesday, May 27, 1:00am: Another rude awakening. But this time it was one of the large neighborhood cats. Not a real threat and I chased it out of the yard.

Friday, May 30, 7:00pm: After a rainy day, I checked the nest and saw one large broken egg shell right in front of Mrs. Duck on the nest! How could it have happened? As Mary and I looked and speculated for several minutes, we saw something moving beside Mrs. Duck. After a bit, the 1st duckling appeared! Needless to say, we watched things closely until dark, definitely seeing a 2nd duckling, and fairly certain, a 3rd one. Reluctantly, we had to go to bed. Mary got up at 3am to see what she could see with a flashlight - nothing but Mrs. Duck. At 5am, Jim went out with the flashlight, and there they were, 4 little ducklings sitting in plain site right in front of Mama Duck! I called Mary so she could see them.

From 7:15am till about 8am, the ducklings were in and out of sight intermittently, sometimes hiding under and behind their mama, and at other times, out in front, or on top of her.

At 8:15am, Mama Duck climbed out of the nest for the first time as a Mama. The ducklings followed, as she stood on the edge of the pool near the nest. We feared that one of the ducklings might fall into the pool. How unfounded that fear was. Within a few minutes, all the ducklings were in the pool, swimming in formation with their mama. The new fear was how they would get out. As a possible solution, Jim got a 2-ft. by 4-ft. piece of 3/4-inch plywood from the garage, placed one end to float in the pool and the other on the pool edge as a ramp. It took a while, but Mama Duck and the ducklings took quite a liking to it. Surprisingly not so much as a ramp from the pool to the yard, but more as a resting platform.













Other highlights of the day:

The ducks seemed to ignore the ramp for exiting the pool. Rather, Mama Duck jumped out and back into the pool dozens of times, obviously trying to train the ducklings to do so. We thought it would be impossible for the ducklings to make that 5-6 inch leap. I did add water to the pool to make it higher than normal, so the jump would be only about 4 inches. Amazingly, the ducklings, with varying degrees of difficulty, started succeeding, with maybe an average three attempts per duckling for each of the maybe 20 exits we observed.

Mama Duck seemed to be trying to teach them to fly during the afternoon, by repeatedly flying out of the pool, and then returning within a minute or two. Once, she took off at one end of the pool and landed immediately at the other end. Needless to say, this effort didn't work - the stubbly little, featherless wings in no way could support flight yet.

In late afternoon, Mrs. Duck started leading repeated parades of the ducklings around the northern edges of the back yard, as if she was ready to lead them out of the yard. Finally, during one of the few times during the day that we weren't watching, they did leave. When Mary discovered them missing, I hurried out to the alley to find them. They had made it as far as the driveway across the alley. With just a little difficulty, I herded them back into our back yard, AND blocked up the two or three possible escape routes.

We had several visitors during the day and evening:

Mary's parents, Dan and Ruth Finn.

Grand-daughter Dani and her parents, Kevin and Melia Malone.

Neighbor Shirley Greenfield and two of her grandchildren, Nicolas and Katie.

Neighbors Larry and Bettye Davis.

Neighbors Harry and Louise Umstead.

The ducks spent the day alternating periods of about 30 to 45 minutes of activity followed by similar periods of rest/sleep.

We were amazed at the great skills learned and or demonstrated by the ducklings in their first 24 hours of life.

Just before dark, and until 11pm, the ducklings seem to be asleep under Mama Duck's wings, ON THE RAMP. Looks like maybe they are there for the night

Sunday, June 1: Calm night. Looks like the ducks slept on the ramp all night. Duck life was very simliar to Saturday - walk and swim around for 30-45 minutes, then sleep for about the same amount of time. Son Dan came over from Fort Worth to observe. John and Clare Davis visited, Mary's parents, Dan and Ruth Finn visited again.

Mrs. Duck continued to search for an escape. We finally decided to give them another chance at escape, with Dan and I following to ensure safety, at least as long as we could. Around 4pm, Mrs. Duck walked out our yard gate, followed loosely by her 4 young ones. (1st picture below.) Unlike yesterday, she went into the back yard of the house next door to the east of the house immediately across the alley. The large electrically operated gate was abnormally open. We saw the ducks walk into the brick-fenced inner back yard, with the two large Dobermans in the nearby garage barking like mad. These neighbors weren't in sight. Dan and I tentatively agreed to herd them back into our back yard, IF they came out of that yard. We figured they would NEVER get anywhere, if they tried every dead-end yard. We waited maybe 5 minutes and they never came back out. I jumped into the car, to go around to the street in front of that house to see if possibly they had gotten through that yard. By the time I got to that street, I could see the ducks in the yard across even that street. I hurried back to pick up Dan who had been guarding the rear exit. We decided we would need a car to track the ducks.

To shorten the story, let me just say the ducks headed north whenever they could, and when they couldn't go north, they went west until they could go north again. They crossed about six neighborhood streets and one 4-lane main roads. They walked down sidewalks, (2nd picture below.) and they walked down alleys. They walked in yards. (3rd picture below. They finally got to a yard on a cul-de-sac with an open front, but a fence in the rear. By this time, Dan was walking, taking pictures, while I cruised along in the car. As he noticed the apparent dead end, an older lady just happened to walk out of the house there. Dan showed her the duck parade and explained the situation. The lady's husband came out and the lady next door came out to help. They agreed willingly to open the gate in the rear fence. But, they had difficulties. When they finally got it open, the ducks were not in sight in the back yard. They had found a hole and gone under the fence! Dan followed on foot, now on the fringes of the MacArthur High School athletic fields. I jumped back in the car and drove the quarter mile or so to meet him on the next street, the 4-lane major street. When I got there, I realized there was a park-like area on the north side of that 4-lane street, next to a large apartment/condo complex, in Los Colinas. I ran over to confirm suspicions that there was a pond or lake down the hill. Yes, there was, and there were ducks there! I hustled back across the street to meet Dan and the coming ducks. I stopped traffic in the two east-bound lanes, then Dan stopped traffic in the two west-bound lanes. (4th picture below.) Dan took a picture of the ducks and me as the ducks approached the final easy fence. (5th picture below.) Then, Dan shot the last picture on the roll of film, after the ducks had passed through that last fence. (Last picture below.)









The walk had taken about a half hour, with the ducks stopping only momentarily the few times they got stymied at a fence, before turning around for a new route. What a walk for ducklings less than 2 days old! It's amazing that Mrs. Duck knew so well what route to take on the ground, based on her aerial reconnaisance. She had only about three dead-ends,

What a super ending, huh? We let nature take its course and it seemed to work out better than we could have expected.

We went back home, picked up Mary, and took her back to see the final destination of our "children." We spotted them mixing in nicely with the other ducks.

THE END! (For now, anyway.)