I’m zonked. We only got back from Easter vacation two days before the ducklings arrived so now I’m not only jet-lagged, I’m duck-lagged. More caffeine and then back to the garage to monitor the hatchlings. The warnings of poultry experts rattle around in my sluggish brain. They need water but not too much, being waterlogged can be as bad as being dehydrated. You may have to check on them every 30 minutes if they seem weak. Brooder lamps can cause fires. Drafts can be deadly!
Gladys is clearly annoying her peers. They all have the cute awkwardness of baby animals but Gladys exceeds in the haplessness category. She keeps trying to lean up against the others (as they must have done in the shipping box) but in this larger landscape, they resist being used as feathered heat lamps. Her big sisters have also gotten the idea of water—wet stuff, good—and I no longer have to show them how to find the waterer or what to do when they get there. But Gladys follows them to the bowl and just plops down.
I pick her up as carefully as I can and gently press her bill into the rim of the water bowl. She resists only slightly and then, wham, back goes her head and she swallows. Of course, the others give her very little quarter. She can’t quite manage to keep her drinking slot so while she waits her turn, I place her under the brooder lamp to dry off.
It’s small, but it’s progress. Back into the house and this time, I call our fabulous veterinary hospital, the people who take care of our two (former) rescue (now) incredibly pampered cats. As it happens, I had just been at the vet the day before to pick up the aforementioned Frankie and Lulu who were boarded while we were on our trip. In the back of my mind, I had already been mulling over where I could take our ducks if they got sick or injured…although I thought it would be some far-off future, not an immediate concern. Ha, best laid plans!
Very weirdly, as I’m standing there waiting for the cats to come out and harass me about leaving them at the vet again, I decide to ask the receptionist whether they had anyone who can handle ducks. Well, she replies, we do and believe it or not, someone is here right now with a duck. Really? I turn to see a guy walk into the lobby with a huge white Pekin (I think) wrapped in a towel, patiently looking around while his caretaker chats with the vet. I give them a few moments before I gush—oh, you have a duck! We’re getting ducklings tomorrow! The Man with the Duck needs no prompting to talk about his own splendid animal. Soon we’re chit-chatting away about the pleasures of duck ownership and he tells me that his doc is ab-fab in the poultry department. (I’m paraphrasing.) I make a mental note to make sure I ask for this vet when on some super distant day I might need him.
Wednesday, April 18th turns out to be that day. Unfortunately, Dr. Y as I’ll call him, is not in and he can’t see Gladys tomorrow either as he’s fully booked in surgery. I set up an appointment with another of the doctors in the practice but leave word for Dr. Y to please call me anyway. I’m pretty sure Gladys is stable if she’s drinking water and sort of lapping up GroGel but I am going to be nervous all night. The website folks tell me to give it 48 hours so I cross fingers (and toes.) They also remind me that the ducklings can be offered food right away as long as they have water at the same time. I hang up and speed off to fill up a feeder with poultry crumble. Within moments, I am thrilled to see the hardier ducks going at it with gusto. Gladys, on her own developmental schedule, doesn’t even try but she achieves her own first– drinking water without my help.
Later I share both these milestones with Pamela as we walk home from school. A couple of her friends, eager to meet our new household members, tag along. I lay down the rules: No touching, soft voices, no sudden movements. The girls ooh and aah over the fluffy babies—impossible not to, I swear!—and they giggle over Gladys’ gymnastics. I gently explain that the little duckling wasn’t doing these things on purpose. Surprised, they respond sympathetically and just like that Gladys adds another two humans to her list of well-wishers.*
That night before bed, Pamela asks to have some private time with the two-day-olds. Since the original idea was to give her responsibility for the birds anyway, I agree with only the slightest hesitation. PJ goes upstairs and comes back with a stack of picture books.** After cleaning up the excess sogginess in the pen, I snap a few pics and retreat to the doorway.
And then the very tired hatchlings snuggled together in the cozy bedding as Pamela read them ducky stories until she, too, was finally ready to go to sleep.
*It’s been suggested that Gladys needs her own Facebook page but I’m not quite ready to go there….
** Suggested bedtime reading per Pamela: Ducks in a Row, Olivia and her Ducklings and The Story About Ping. You probably have your own suggestions. Share them!
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes