Two days ago I was out before breakfast, enjoying unseasonable early-morning warmth, when I heard a frantic quacking from the back yard. That was alarming, since our ducks are Muscovies, which don’t really quack at all. They make a soft, whirring noise at most. Uh-oh.
I ran back there just in time to see Bernie climbing on top of Petra. Apparently nature is firing up Bernie’s hormones, and this seemed to be the cause of the racket. Petra wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to become the object of Bernie’s affections, however. By now Bern probably weighs in at around nine pounds, compared to Petra’s svelte five or so. The process looked a little too aggressive and unbalanced to me, and I was pretty sure Petra wouldn’t have opted for this amorous attention if she’d had a choice.
Bernie didn’t seem too skilled in his technique, either. His position made effective mating anatomically impossible for one thing. He was having a hard time balancing with his feet halfway up Petra’s back, and occasionally he slipped sideways until he was perpendicular to her. His idea of foreplay was to peck roughly about her head, focusing (cruelly, I thought) on her damaged eye. It took a lot, but I resisted the temptation to yell at Bernie and chase him away from Petra.
Trust nature, I kept telling myself. It may look impossible, ludicrous and mean, but they’ll sort it out eventually.
Finally Petra managed to bounce Bernie off her back, quacked madly and made off for Duckville Manor. Bernie wasn’t deeply enough in love to follow her up the ramp, and his testosterone rush seemed to wear off quickly. She reappeared in the duck yard within minutes and life returned to pre-puberty levels.
But a line has been crossed. Soon the relationship between the four ducks will change permanently. Adult juices are flowing: eggs will be laid, the boys will fight each other, the girls will divide their time between incubating and foraging.
Something in me felt a little sad. Oh, I’m looking forward to delicious breakfasts of duck-egg omelets all right, and it’s exciting to watch our duckies grow up … but I’m not quite ready for them to take on the serious business of reproduction, with its competition and harshness. I like my ducks sort of daft and adorable.
Maybe it’s time for a few more new ducks.