This post was originally published May 9, 2010.
With two ponds on the property, ducks were inevitable. One pond is natural and quite picturesque with willows and cottonwoods and a small pier. However, there's only a barbed wire fence for protection. The other was dug to provide the dirt used to build the pad for the barn and has no shade trees or other amenities. However, it is in the barn's pasture surrounded by 2x4 mesh nonclimb horse fence, so was the obvious choice for domestic ducks.
Strike two: While they would sleep fairly close to the house, there was a fence between them and my dogs. Hindsight says I should have anticipated that no matter how tightly fenced the area was, coyotes would dig under the gate at night during a storm when the dogs were not just on the other side of the mesh fence but in the house. In the morning, two of the ducks had been killed and eaten, and the third was absolutely traumatized.
I relocated her to the backyard where the dogs could keep an eye on her. Over the next few months, Duckie Duck and I bonded quite nicely. She would crawl onto my lap, bury her bill in my hand, and beg to be scratched under her wings. I knew she was lonely, though, and I was a poor substitute for her own kind. I looked first to local shelters to see if there were any rescues needing a home and, not finding any, turned again to the retail store for some duckie friends.
Are you getting the idea predators are the number one reason my hair is turning gray? I want to keep my babies safe, but I also want them happy and free-ranging. I also respect the rights of the predators. All I can do is my best to keep everyone separated. Sometimes, the predators win. I hold no grudges -- they are simply trying to survive like the rest of us. Still it's heartbreaking, as when, a few months later, I found the other female mallard -- a quite gentle soul and the absolute love of the little drake mallard's life -- decapitated right outside the backyard fence in the goat pen where she'd been keeping a secret nest.
The most surprising thing, though, was that when evening came, the ducks instinctively deemanded to return to the backyard. I couldn't be happier with the compromise. We march out to the pond each morning, having to first distract the goats as we work our way through their pen and then distract the horses as we go through the gate into their pasture, and return to the backyard each evening. The extra 10 minutes it takes is more than a fair price to pay for peace of mind -- and the joy of seeing happy ducks in the pond.