They've been mating like crazy for the past few weeks -- and there's a reason they call sex "canoodling." [Click here and you'll see what I mean.] For a couple of weeks the drakes were fighting over the hens, but they seem to have settled down and paired up now. I can't remember if I posted that two of the ducks were killed by a predator awhile back, but we only have one black cayuga now. She's the most prolific egg layer, and the boys all seem quite enamored of her.
They've been working on making a community nest and laying all their eggs in it for a couple of weeks now. We collect the eggs every morning and they refill it. This week they started balking about leaving it in the morning, so we made the executive decision to not collect the eggs for a few days and see what happens. We left three the first day, and the next day there were two more and the nest was covered over with straw and feathers.
Last night the ducks scared the hell out of me. They always make one last victory lap around the house about a half hour before sunset and then go in the duck dome whether I'm here to put them to bed or not. If I happen to miss sunsent and go out there after dark to give them food and water they're already asleep in the dome. Last night they never came home. It got to be sunset and I went looking for them, quacking and calling them, and I couldn't find them anywhere. I looked down by the pond and didn't see them there, either.
When Ev came home she came in and woke me up and said, "The ducks are in the pond and there's something huge in the water with them, swimming and splashing. It sounds like a whale." I thought to myself, "Oh, please. A whale??" and got out of bed. We went down there with a puny little penlight. I couldn't see a thing, but we could hear the ducks muttering and swimming. Then the splashing started. Loud, huge splashing that threw water up far enough to see it in the dark. "Jesus!" I said, "It IS a fucking whale!"
We went around the back side of the pond in the dark and finally got a slight glimpse of them. There were only four, swimming and quacking. Ev saw some eyes in the woods and decided it was either a dog or a coyote prowling around in the dark and shooed it off. It was very dark and very scary. Ev thought maybe the dog or whatever it was had been in the water catching them, so we returned to the house and she went back out with a lantern. When she came back the next time she said, "Damnit, I think it's huge snapping turtles. I can only find five ducks."
Snapping turtles kill ducks. I have a very slight fatalistic streak of abject pessimism, so I immediately decided the whole flock would be dead by morning and made a solemn vow to swear off keeping barnyard animals forever, then sat on the couch and chainsmoked.
At that point Ev got in her truck, drove it through our yard and into the neighbor's yard, around his barn and down to the edge of the pond with her brights on. (The neighbor must think we're insane tromping around quacking at his pond in the dark and driving through his field at midnight.) When she came back she said, "They're all there. Three of them were asleep in the weeds and I woke them up with my lights. The splashing was the ducks. They're diving and flapping and going bottom-up for stuff in the pond. They won't come out for nothin'."
This morning they were back in our yard, wet and bedraggled and eating bugs like nothing had happened, but there were only seven of them instead of eight. I checked the duck dome just in case and, sure enough, there was a hen on the nest and she wasn't budging. She took off about an hour later for the pond and now there are seven eggs.
According to the duck experts, they won't start sitting on the eggs until there's a clutch (usually about 8-10) and when they do start sitting they only sit for an hour a couple of times a day at first. Toward the end of the 28 day hatching cycle they'll stay on the eggs all the time except for an hour or so to eat and swim. I'm not sure what happens when the nest is "full." I don't know if the other hens keep on slipping eggs into the nest until they have a mountain of eggs, or if they'll take turns sitting on them, or if they'll drop the extra eggs somewhere else.
This will be a "wait and see" proposition. I think I'll mark the eggs that are in there now and start counting days. No telling if any of them will actually hatch, but there's been ample canoodling going on to fertilize them and Ev has already declared her intention to "eat the children." Some of them, if they hatch, will be cayuga and rouen cross-breeds. Should be interesting looking. I won't let her eat those.
Anyone with poultry experience is more than welcome to start giving out advice at this point!