It would be just our luck to acquire farm animals that are overly sensitive and easily frightened by things that would be common if encountered in nature…
You see, Peanut ‘n’ Butter did not start out afraid of the water. In fact, they have had quite the love affair with water in their first two months of life. When we moved them outside to be “grown up” ducks, we installed a pond (DIY details to come), which the ducks took to instantly. From the moment there was water in their pond, they did not leave it. We had to pull them out of it each night to put them to bed in the coop and they immediately returned to it each morning.
Then it happened. The Handy Man and I got a good idea and ruined it all.
When we see a problem or potential problem in our manufactured habitat, we try to address it in the most natural and mutually beneficial way possible so that it functions somewhat like a realistic ecosystem. For example, with the addition of a pond, we face issues that may arise when dealing with stagnant water – increased mosquito populations. There are a few simple, organic solutions to this: plant mosquito repelling plants (check), install bat houses (check) and introduce fish to the pond.
Now, you can see how this seemed like a good idea. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. Fish live in water and eat mosquito eggs. Ducks swim in water and eat fish and mosquitoes. Surviving fish eat duck poop and make more poop for the organic garden. It’s the circle of life. Everyone’s happy.
So off to the pet store we went to purchase feeder fish – the tiniest, cheapest fish you can purchase. They’re typically goldfish or minnows that can live in nearly any condition and run around $0.10 a piece.
Upon returning home from the pet store, we set the bag of fish in the pond to allow the fish to acclimate to the water temperature. The ducks got out of the pond when we did this but we didn’t think much of it and went about our yard work. After an hour passed, I emptied the fish into the pond and the Handy Man and I sat back awaiting our lavish praise. But no praise came. Nothing came. As far as the ducks were concerned, we had just poisoned their pond and it would never be the same.
The ducks were afraid. Of the fish.
I looked at them in utter disbelief. “YOU EAT FISH,” I yelled. “Do you not know that yet?” We attempted to heard them to the pond to no avail. They would rather have died than go back in that water.
They spent the rest of the day glaring at us from the opposite side of the yard. We hoped that they would go to bed and wake up a.) in a better mood and b.) with no memory of the betrayal. But we had no such luck.
The next day Peanut ‘n’ Butter decided that they were chickens, not ducks. They followed the hens around, attempting to scratch up bugs with their webbed feet and did not once even glance longingly towards the pond. It was dead to them.
The chickens, now sensing an imbalance in the backyard hierarchy, decided that they would try out being ducks. As you can imagine, this did not work out very well. Mid-day I found Uggh unsuccessfully “swimming” in the pond, half chasing fish and half panic-stricken, trying to get out. I scooped her up and dried her off. Hopefully she has realized that although a duck may get away with acting like a chicken, a chicken cannot get away with pretending to be a duck.
Day three was more of the same. Impatient with their lack of progress and understanding of their own nature, we tossed them in the pond, thinking it would jolt their instinctual memories. But no. They just jumped out, ran away and glared at us from a safe distance.
We tried to lure them closer by placing their food and water dish near the pond’s edge, but they refused to eat from it. Instead, they ate weeds from the yard until we moved the food further away from the water’s edge.
Exasperated at the end of the day, we sat with them that evening, trying to rebuild the trust lost in our relationship. They noisily chatter away, expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the situation to the Handy Man. Of course, as the fish-dumper, I can no longer be held in such confidence.
Today we got the idea to play the ducks Youtube videos of other ducks splashing and playing in the water, hoping that the excited sounds of their brethren would entice them. (The things you will do for your emotionally distraught ducklings!) We did this for over an hour as Peanut ‘n’ Butter cocked their heads back and forth in response to the familiar noises to no avail. Although they did express interest and crept closer, they never breached the barrier at which they considered a safe distance away from the poisoned pond and monstrous fish.
So here we are with ducks that are afraid of the water. We broke them and their little emotional, sensitive spirits with a bag of fish. To be a duck-out-of-water is a sad, sad plight. Here’s hoping they return to the water on their own, as they continue to grow in size and confidence, overcoming this very traumatic experience…
The fish are happy, though. They’re flourishing and have at least tripled in size. Scary little suckers. I guess the circle of life isn’t always so straight forward. Who knew?