“You know, you’re not really a farmer,” my husband pointed out as I groaned again at the first signs of rosy-fingered dawn.

“Yeah, I just play one on the Internet,” I quipped.  Admittedly, it took a moment to get the quip together.  I was that sluggish.

It was 5:20 AM, twenty minutes past my wake-up call sponsored today, I think, by a Carolina wren.  By the time I hauled myself down the stairs, I could already hear both Welsh Harlequins whistle-peeping in ducky duet.  What was it this time:  bird escape, water spillage or simply out of crumble?  Turns out, they were just happy to see me.

“Girls, girls, girls!” I admonished.  “It’s coming, it’s coming!”

As they milled around the breakfast bowl, I observed the results of another night of almost preternatural growth.  They were clearly leaving ducklinghood behind and Andrew was right.  They weren’t so cute anymore.  Weeks Four and Five could be called the Ugly Duckling Phase, although, unlike the storybook version, none of these gals were turning into swans.  (I think.)  They sort of resembled ungainly teenagers, with attendant skin and hair issues, except the Cayugas who looked as glamorous as ever in basic black.  Gladys, still a few steps behind the others developmentally, retained a sweet hint of hatchling.  But Puff has gone from pretty lemon yellow to yellow with bits of a Band-Aidish tan.  Peep was the most mottled, with darker feathers rippling beneath her fluffy topcoat in rather unsightly combination.*

Looks aside, they continued to surprise and amuse.  As others have noted, ducks do have personality.  Here’s what I see in our girls:

Puff (Orpington Buff): Leadership qualities, maternal instincts (often lets Gladys huddle with her), sentry (stands tall over the others), calm, careful (doesn’t jump in first, checks things out)

Note the beginnings of the tan color on what I think are her thigh coverts.

Peep (Welsh Harlequin): Seems large for her class; more vocal now with that distinctive WH cry; avoids humans like the Cayugas; “helps” her fellow WH but not as much as Puff does; fairly assertive but again, not as much as the Cayugas.

You can see the mottling in this fourth week pic.
Photo by Pamela Rosenburgh.

Fannie and Bonnie (Cayugas):  Both are daring, intrepid and skittish around humans (even me, who feeds them!); one of them now gives an unholy squeal whenever I pick her up for transport between brooding pen and yard; they were the first to jump the wall and escape (temporarily); they were first into the bathing water; they are curious and feckless and quite beautiful.

Fannie on the left, Bonnie on the right. Or the opposite.

Gladys (Welsh Harlequin): Thanks, perhaps, to her many trips to the vet and the concurrent handlings by multiple humans, dear Gladys is easy to pick up and hold.  She tends to seek out Buff for cuddling but is happy to lean against any of her peers if need be.  She’s never first at the food or water but she elbows in and finds her space.

In the early days of her adolescence, still fluffy.
Photo by Pamela Rosenburgh.

The only other thing I notice after we pass the first month mark is that Peep’s head seems to be a bit darker than the rest of her body.  In other words, she is beginning to look a little Mallard-like.  Gladys, being at least a week behind her in growth, doesn’t have this particular coloration but it’s hard to know yet whether they’re diverging or converging.  Peep’s brown head is actually very attractive and as more scalloped patterning emerges on her back, she begins to become quite a lovely young duck.

It’s about a week later when I’m checking out duck videos on the Internet (and you thought I just browsed for the articles) that I start wondering about that dark head.  All the females that I see have light-colored crowns.  The males are the ones with that gorgeous iridescent mallard-like…yikes!

Is there a rooster in our hen house???!

Peep’s darker head is very evident in this photo.

*I’ve seen the photos of their breeds’ adult plumage so I know this is a passing phase.


Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes