Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Wild Ducks
by [?]

WHEN our grass was being cut the mowers came upon a wild duck’s nest containing eight eggs; they were carried whilst still warm and placed under a sitting hen; in a week’s time she brought out eight fluffy little ducklings, which were placed with her under a coop in the farmyard. I paid them a visit the next day, but, alas! I saw four little corpses lying about in the grass, the remaining four were chirping piteously, and the hen was in despair at being unable to comfort her uncanny children. Evidently their diet was in fault; I thought I would take them in hand, and therefore had the coop brought round to the garden, and placed under the drooping boughs of a deodar near the drawing-room window, where I could watch over them.

I gave the wee birdies a pan of water, and placed in it some finely-shred lettuce, with grits and brown bread crumbs, not forgetting suitable food for the poor distracted hen. It was charming to hear the little happy twitterings of the downy babes, how they gobbled and sputtered and talked to each other over their repast, swimming to and fro as if they had been ducks of mature age and experience, instead of mere yellow fluffs of a day old; and, finally, they seemed to remember they had a warm, comfortable mother somewhere, and sought refuge under her kindly wings, where I left them exchanging confidences in little drowsy chirps.

I found it needful to guard my little brood with fine wire-work, for some carrion crows kept hovering near, and a weasel was constantly on the watch to carry them off; but these enemies were successfully baffled, and three of the ducks survived all dangers and grew to beautiful maturity, the fourth having died in infancy from an accidental peck from the hen. In rearing all wild creatures the great thing is to study and imitate, as nearly as possible, their natural surroundings, and especially their diet. Chopped lettuce and worms made a fair substitute for their natural food, but the jubilation that went on when a mass of water-weed, full of insects, water snails, etc., was brought them, showed that they knew by instinct what suited them best. With constant care and attention they grew very tame, and would eat out of one’s hand, and when let out of the coop would follow me to a certain heap of dead leaves where worms abounded, and there, with the most amusing eagerness, they pounced upon their wriggling prey, snatching the worms out of each other’s beak, and tumbling over one another in their excitement, all the while making a special chirp of exceeding happiness.

They were named Tiny, Sir Francis Drake, and Luther–I fear the last name had a covert allusion to the “Diet of Worms.”

When the purple feathers began to show in their wings, and they considered themselves quite too old to pay any allegiance to their hen-mother, they began to absent themselves for some hours each afternoon, and this, too, in a most secret fashion, for I could never tell how they disappeared, but they returned in due time, walking quietly in Indian file, and lay down in their coop. At last I traced them to a pond a long distance off–it really seemed as if they had scented the water, for they had to traverse a lawn and wood, go across a drive, and through a hedge and field, and then the pond was in a hollow where they could not possibly have seen it; but there I found my little friends in high glee, darting over the surface of the water, splashing, diving, sending up showers of spray from their wings, and going on as if they were possessed. I called to them, and in a moment they quieted down, and behaved exactly as children would have done when caught tripping–they came out of the water and followed me, in the meekest and most penitent manner, back to their home under the deodar.