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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A duckling, poddy calves, and freedom 1

pt 1 <<you are here | pt 2

When I woke this morning, my brain was on fire.

  I don't mean in a bad way; I meant that ideas were flowing through, separate thoughts and memories that get joined in the way a flame connects separate pieces of wood burning in the glass-fronted heater.

  One memory was about a baby wild duck that we found on the dam when the girls were little. It was small enough to be rescued without protest.

  One of its feet was malformed - not a lot, but a couple of toes were missing and the webbing incomplete. Perhaps the mother and brood had abandoned it on that account, or it may have been the sole survivor of a fox attack; its inability to keep up saving its life.

  We took it up to the house and put it in a spare cage I had built for rearing chickens.

  I think we raised it on normal chicken feed. It's a bit hazy now, but I moved the cage across the grass daily so it was able to forage, digging out little bits for itself of grass, insects... whatever its instinct told it was food for ducklings.  Maybe the girls found treats for it now and again.

  I always think of it as female by the colouring, but I can't be sure. I'm not a duck-sexer and it didn't matter anyway. The girls fussed over her and she didn't mind, but she always had a natural wildness about her.

  In a few weeks, her body grew to maturity. She always walked with a limp, but it didn't bother her much. Through the mesh clipped over the cage, she started looking upwards, exercising her wings. For a day or two, this scouring of the sky, the restlessness and wing-stretching went on.

  We had never intended to keep her as a pet, so one morning, as the beating of wings started, I took the wire netting off the top of the cage, and we watched.

  She stretched her legs and stood tall for a moment on the one good foot and the crumpled one, and flapped her wings strongly. She searched upwards as if there was some target in the blue. Then, with not the least hesitation, she sped skyward at a steep angle, a hundred metres high above us, and circled - a complete circle half a kilometre wide.

  There was no faltering as she headed off unerringly towards the east. She was free.

  I'll tell you the other freedom story tomorrow, and connect the two. But to do that, I need to go backwards in time another thirty years.

pt 1 <<you are here | pt 2


  1. Reminds me of another rehabilitation of wildlife story.........

    The women with whom I have lived for 20 years used to work in wildlife rehabilitation at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The technique for returning young kookaburras to the wild was delightfully elegant. The zoo had lots of resident kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae) which are highly territorial. They can be kin-ship breeders, sharing space and some duties with young of the previous season. Kookaburras reared by humans won’t be accepted by the resident birds, won’t necessarily have all of their normal innate kookaburra behaviours intact, and probably won’t be reared as effectively as kookaburras grown up naturally. So, it is best to avoid this artificial rearing. Leave it to the kookaburra experts.

    The technique? Simply, young kookaburras (birds that had fledged) would be placed in a cage near the hospital. The local birds would be furious. They would fly down screaming abuse at this interloper. Of course, we call this abuse laughing (hence laughing kookaburra) but to any other kookaburra, this is a deadly serious matter. ‘This is our real estate’, the behaviour would say (or scream), ‘so go away. Leave. Now!’ Of course, the young was caged and unable to leave.

    Soon enough though, that laughing abuse would be replaced by feeding the young through the cage wire. The behaviour then said: ‘My goodness; you aren’t leaving. You must be one of ours. Quick, you famished bird. Eat this!’ And within a short time, the cage door would be opened and off the local group would fly, its numbers swelled by one.

  2. Great stories, both. Now I'll hear kookaburras laugh differently! I'm intrigued to hear episode 2 of this (and being 'anonymous' today as Google wants my phone number, which I won't give!)


  3. That's a fascinating story. I had no idea how it worked, but there will be many who are interested, I'm sure. The question of hand-feeding birds is always a thorny one. I know people who have reared generations of them with great pleasure, but they've always been people very intelligent about their handling of this. Total dependency is a danger.

    I wonder if we can apply the same principle to humans? Give care to those who have problems for as long as is necessary, but give them and those around them the chance to adjust and adapt.

    There's an irony in the fact that you have come into the territory I am about to explore in the second and final part of this!

    Many thanks.


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