“This is the Post Office. We have your chickens.”
I didn’t correct the woman on the phone that in fact, they were ducks. Instead, I blearily took down the Post Office address, seeing as it wasn’t the one a couple blocks away, and told her I’d be there immediately.
When I rang the buzzer and said I was picking up my ducks, a postal worker went into the back of their huge workroom and came out with a cardboard box. Except for the dime-sized holes in it, it was no different from a box I might get from LL Bean or Fabric.com. Just a cardboard box.
Oh, dear, I thought, surely they’re dead in there. But as she got closer, the box peeped, a lot. It peeped all the way home and peeped while I woke the boys up so that we could open it together.
And when I took the lid off, just like something magical out of a Roald Dahl book, there were four very alive ducks, frantically peeping and looking at us. We carefully put the lid back on so that they wouldn’t fall out, and brought them to the temporary home we had ready for them in the basement.
Until they’re big enough and feathered enough to deal with the outside world, they’re living in a large Rubbermaid container by the washing machine. They have food and water and a heat light suspended above them. It sort of feels like we’re growing seedlings, which in a sense we are.
My duck book said to take each of them and dip their bills in the water so that they’d know how to find it. I did this with the first, who seemed pretty annoyed. Max was frightened, “You’re forcing it!” he said, distressed. (He pretends he’s cool, but he is easily distressed.)
“That’s what the book says to do!” I gave up. They all quickly found, and reveled in, the water on their own. I suppose it’s just the dim ducks who need coaching on how to use water.
For the most part, for these last 48 hours, we’ve just been staring at them. Phil put one of the kids’ chairs in front of the container so that the kids can go watch them, like a much better version of TV, whenever they want.
Last night marked our first traumatic duck-maintenance job: Phil and I had to remove the wire bands wrapped, spring-like, around their tiny little duck legs. That’s what the instructions at the hatchery said: Remove the bands. No more help than that for suburban folks getting their first ducks. Initially Phil would catch and hold a duck, and I would try to just pry the band open, but that wasn’t working. There was a lot of frantic peeping and panicked looks from the captured duckling, and her leg kept jerking away. After trial and error, we found that Phil could hold the duck and get his finger behind the duck’s backwards knee to hold it out, and I could snip the little wire bracelets with a pair of craft scissors from my knitting bag. (Oh, knitting, when are you not applicable to a situation?) I can’t overstate how much this task worried me, and it felt like quite a triumph when we were done.
I’ve also expanded my duck library, as in addition to the definitive duck book (Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, 2nd Edition), I’m now in love with Harvey Ussery and his smart, practical, and sustainable advice in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.
Two days into our duck adventure, I’m completely, utterly smitten with these girls.