At the beginning of the month I told you how we discovered that our missing Muscovy duck hadn't been snatched by a predator, but had disappeared to make a nest and set a clutch of eggs. We discovered this when Dan found one of our ducks wrestling a rat snake over an egg in front of the hay hut. (That story here, "No Hope for Ducklings?") Considering the number of eggshells we'd found and that Dan ended up killing three snakes, we didn't know if she had any eggs left.
When we decided we'd better fix the old goat shed roof ("The Old Goat Shed: Roof It Or Lose It") we needed to move the hay hut because it was right in front of the shed. Dan could pull the hay hut away with the tractor, but we didn't know the status of Mama Duck and her nest. We didn't know the target hatch date and didn't want to hurt her or her eggs (if she had any left). Dan thought he could lift one side of the hay hut with the tractor and then take a look to see what was what. If she was still there I could put her and her nest into the dog crate and move it into the chicken coop. I knew from experience that broody mamas don't like to be moved, but I could close the crate door until she got used to being there. Neither of us thought her spot a very good choice, anyway, because of our cats.
We lifted the hay hut up and looked. No Mama Duck. Dan knew approximately where the nest was but could see no eggs. What had happened? Had the snakes gotten them all? He chained the structure to the tractor and pulled it away from the goat shed.
Well, guess what. Her nest was there and it was full of eggs! They were still warm and the worst part was that we had cracked three or four of them. We could see fully developed ducklings inside. And! They were still alive!
What to do, what to do. My first thought was to push them back under the hay hut in hopes Mama Duck would find them. Noise from the tractor had likely scared her off and I just hoped that when she came back she'd go to the hay hut; it was only a dozen or so feet from its original location.
All the rest of the day Mama kept looking for her nest, except she always stopped where the nest used to be. I made a trail of chicken scratch from the old spot to the edge of the hay hut, thinking if she got close to the hut it would look familiar and she would think to look underneath. She didn't. She kept going back to the original location of her nest.
Our nighttime low was scheduled to drop into the 50s, which worried me, because I didn't think the half-hatched ducklings nor the rest of the eggs would survive that. We could put them under the brooder lamp, but eggs need more than heat to develop. They need turning and the correct humidity. Without a proper incubator the chances of success seemed slim. The only other place to put them was here...
I had two broodies, a chicken and a duck, vying for the exact same spot under the nest boxes in the chicken coop. I knew they had some eggs, but if I could put Mama Duck's eggs under them, maybe they had a chance.
All we could do after that was wait. The saddest part was that Mama Duck kept looking for her nest. Every time I went out to the chicken yard or goat shed, she would run up to me and cock her head as if to ask where they were. I tried several times to catch her, telling her I'd take her to them, but she wouldn't let me get that close.
A couple of days later I heard some low chicken clucking. I took a peek under the nest boxes and saw this.
For the next couple of days we could hear peeping, but rarely saw the ducklings. One day Mama Hen was off the nest and I saw this.
Later that day we got a head count.
Four ducklings had survived, and been adopted by Mama Hen!
She warms them, feeds them, and protects them. Mama Hen is one happy chicken!
Several days later she took them outside for the first time. It was amazing that even at a couple days old the ducklings instinctively try to catch flying bugs. The adult Muscovies are very good fly catchers, and the babies did what ducks do.
And Mama Duck? It seems that by the time she got over looking for her nest she'd lost her inclination toward broodiness. She looks at the ducklings with interest but makes no attempt to reclaim them.
For now, Mama Hen has her brood, the other broody duck has the nest to herself, and the ducklings are being taken care of. I suspect it's only a matter of time before the ducklings start to prefer the company of the other ducks. All species seem to know their own kind, indeed, even the breeds within the species often know their own kind. Those truths can be found in the old agrarian sayings which are embedded in our language. Things like "birds of a feather stick together." These aren't strict rules, of course, but generalizations. Most often the generalizations are true. I just hope they stick with Mama Hen long enough for her to be done with her broody.