Saturday, April 11, 2009

WATERFOWL SMARTS

How long does it take to train a duck or goose? Not long—at least not when free eats are involved. For upwards of a month, I’ve been feeding a pair each of Canada geese and mallard ducks. Once or twice a day, I scatter a scoop of cracked corn along the top of the riverbank. My waterfowl quartet soon appear and take advantage, shouldering aside the doves and squirrels whom they see as uninvited interlopers. Mind you, these are not semi-tame citified birds, golf-course residents, or picnic area and park pond habitués, comfortably accustomed to people. Instead, they are wild born and raised right here along the river, intolerant of even the occasional summer fisherman or canoeist. Let them see so much as a movement inside the cottage and off they go, protesting loudly and flapping for all they’re worth. At least they were before I began my handouts. Now they tolerate me, and to a lesser degree, Moon. Anyone else and it’s a mad escape scramble, just like always. So they haven’t lost their fear of humans, just of one human. Which isn’t to say I can act too loud, too animated, too threatening around them. No shouting; no eye contact; no waving of arms. Unless the hand is holding the corn scoop—then I can give the feed a toss, nod their way, and tell them to “come and get it.” That’s okay. So they’ve learned to recognize me, learned I’m the source of their corn, and aren’t frightened by the act of tossing the corn out or motioning and telling them to come eat. But they’ve also learned to take turns, and worked out a schedule. Before nesting time, the birds began by appearing together—one pair or the other arriving first, to soon be followed by whichever pair remained. Now the goose and hen are on their nests. The drake and gander apparently aren’t into communal dining. Oddly, it’s the duck that eats first—within minutes after I toss out the corn in the morning. The goose might be paddling around the pool in front of the cottage, but he doesn’t come up until the duck has finished. When the duck departs, the gander takes his turn. The schedule is fairly rigid, too. Breakfast not too long after daylight, and supper a half-hour or so before dusk. In between, the midday hours are a catch-as-catch can potluck. One or the other—duck or goose—is apt to be waddling about looking for leftovers, but only one at a time. Should I be a little late in putting food out, especially in the morning, I’m soon reminded by regular bouts of quacks and honks, an impatient cacophony of loud, aggrieved reminders regarding my overlooked hospitality. More or less the same thing happens should I be caught sitting on my deck when feeding time rolls around—even if the food is already scattered. What they’re chewing me out about then is my not giving them their privacy. Eating alone means I’m not allowed, either. Just the other evening, the goose sat on the water ten feet out from shore, giving me the evil eye and bleating like a dump truck until I realized he wanted me to move elsewhere. Unwelcome on my own deck…the hand that feeds ‘em. Such audacity! Still, I’m impressed by how quickly they’ve learned, the way they’ve worked things out between them, their degree of discernment, and their cheeky behavior. Goofy as a goose? Dumb as a duck? Quite the contrary! That’s simply stupid as a simile.

14 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

How interesting Scribe. You could conduct all kinds of experiments along your stretch of river bank couldn't you? I wonder, when their babies are born, if they will bring them along for a feed - the birds that come to our bird feeders always bring their offspring - it would be interesting to keep a photographic diary of their antics over the next few weeks and see what happens. As usual, I do love your post.

Jenn Jilks said...

Your season is so much farther ahead of ours! We still have lake ice.

But my son went for a dip today.I have the vid to prove it.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I plan on keeping track and photographing any and all developments with my ducks and geese—and all other critters, for that matter. Plus, the old fallen snag…can't forget stumpy. (Currently resting peacefully, if a bit soggy, in the afternoon sunshine.)

That's a real part of the fun of this blog, sharing what I can about where I live with others—just as you've shared so much of your lovely land and life with me and your many other readers.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

It's not exactly warm—mid-50s—but bright and sunny and otherwise as pretty a spring day as you could ask.

Ahh, impetuous youth. I've taken a few swims with ice myself—though mostly unintentional, such as while steelheading. Burrr!

giggles said...

Let the little gooslings and ducklings imprint on you. I dare you!! What mischevious fun that would be! Papa Quacks?

Recent roll call....just the usuals and a quick glimpse of the brown creeper... I've put a different seed out and common grackles are quite enjoying themselves...and I, them.... In the sunshine, their irridecense (sp?) is just beautiful!

Hosps have taken over one of the bluebird boxes. :-(

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Papa Quacks, indeed! Wouldn't that be a sight! Me and my mixed string of yellow fuzzys—dustbunnies with feet—them all strung out behind like railroad cars following a locomotive, quacking and, well, you know what ducks and geese do a lot of. That'd look good in the house, huh? Moon would love it—snacks on the hoof.

Between the above paragraph and this one, the Cooper's just paid a visit. Circled the old tree twice, found nothing, flew away. But nothing new on the roll call. The wood duck was the latest.

Hey, I can't spell iridescence without looking it up, either. (I looked it up.)

giggles said...

Well then...you're a better soul than I...at least, the least laziest of us two.... Now let's see if I can remember from now on?!

Yeah... I don't think I've seen a wood duck IRL...have I said that here yet? I do know how beautiful they are... I'm green with envy.... I saw a pair of mergansers a couple of weeks ago...I was alone and picked 'em out all by myself... I am quite pleased w/myself, too!

Enjoy the Cooper's show!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

This sounds like great fun, Grizzled! I love the idea of the indignant fanfare outside if you are late with the food.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

I have to look certain words up. The funny thing is, I'm still misspelling the same ones I misspelled back when there were only 25 letters in the alphabet.

Waterfowl are some of the prettiest birds, with the most amazing colors and patterns—and lots of iridescence (looked it up again).

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

You ought to hear their loud demands, the way they berate and blame me for not having their meal ready! And all the while, staring directly at me like disgruntled diners whose reservation had been overlooked.

Sydney said...

Oh I totally loved this, every word!!!!!

Ate it with a spoon.

Sydney said...

I'm intersted to know like weaver mentioned if the babies will come along. THough I learned somewhere in my wildlife training that they don't yet have the digestive tract to stomach the cracked corn. THere is something called chick feed that you may have come across. That's what we feed the baby ducks that we get in at the wildlife rehab I volunteer at, if that's any help.

THe Chinese geese that someone must have had as pets and then dropped off at the park/lake next door to me make the loudest honks. I will post a little movie tomorrow of Mr. Goose so you can hear it, so pls. stop on by!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sidney…

Hey, I'm glad you liked the piece. Might have know, with that posting of Elvis and all.

I actually hadn't thought about the cracked corn being a problem. I wonder what chick feed has that they can eat safely—whether it's just the size or the corn itself; could I put in some cormeal, etc.. I'll look at the feed store next time I'm there and be sure and get some if they do appear.

P.S. I'll be sure and drop by for the Chinese goose honks.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sydney…

I apologize for misspelling the name. Won't happen again (I don't think). I'm too pre-programmed…there's a town named Sidney right up the road from me.