Mutant Ducks of Raccoon

I’ve written about the mallard ducks in our neighborhood in previous years. And then there were threeThey come in March. Three males hang out for a bit with a female until the female goes to her nest either out by the mailbox or under our deck. These ducks have been inbreeding for years. A creek is just down the hill in the our backyard yet they stay in the neighborhood, mainly at ducklings6-13-12 010the farm where they originated.

I’m guessing that years ago someone bought a couple of cute ducklings for Easter presents. Now those ducks number in the dozens and really have forgotten that ducks belong near water. When it rains they play in the mud puddles at the farm. A few go in the tiny puddle while the others wait on the sidelines patiently. We don’t have mud puddles. However, this year when my husband lay plastic on the raised beds so the soil wouldn’t get too wet, the dips in the plastic formed places for water to collect.

Yep, we now have a duck pool.

Raccoon Creek Pond

Raccoon Creek Pond

Finally – the Garden Grows


First sign of spring – the daffodil

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Robert worked outside from early morning until the light faded from the yard over the weekend. Each night, he came inside with hands covered in dirt and a bent back after hours of leaning. But the smile on his face told me the physical hardships did nothing to dampen the sheer joy of planting the garden for 2013.

As with the rest of the country, we’ve had a very long winter. March saw temperatures dipping below the freezing point nearly every night. The last few weeks, we’d been scrounging for firewood for our Buck fireplace that heats our family room on cold winter nights. We had enough wood put up for a typical winter – more if you count the four weeks we spent in Florida. But a typical winter here in southwestern Pennsylvania usually lasts until the end of February or early March. Onions should have been in the ground weeks ago. The pea sprouts almost went too long. He finally put the first batch in last week despite predictions of 25 degree nights. His bet paid off. When he checked on Saturday, peas were popping out of the soil.

seedlings waiting for next planting

seedlings waiting for next planting

He planted more peas, spinach and some members of the “cole” family. Parsley went in the herb planter in the yard.

parsley planted

parsley planted

Now the only enemy here in the second week of April are the mallard ducks that don’t know better than to find water to live. Once again they’ve come back to our yard to nest and love walking through the garden ignoring the paths in between the raised beds. (See post on the Mallard Ducks of Raccoon Township).

DSC02543Robert’s last act before ending his work  Sunday night was to cover all the newly planted seedlings, except the onions, with Reemay. Here’s hoping it keeps out the ducks.


To Feed or Not to Feed

San Antonio River Walk

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I know it seems sweet to feed birds in the park or on the riverfront walks in cities. I probably did it at one time myself. But if you want to feed birds, do it in your own backyard using food that will help them. Audubon gives some great advice on bird food and feeders.

The other day I ate lunch on San Antonio’s river walk at Cafe Rio. Pigeons, ducks, and smaller birds wander the area waiting for easy grub.

lying in wait

I watched as a man across from me leaned down and fed a pigeon a tortilla chip. I shook my head at his female companion, and she looked puzzled. Then I heard her give a small yelp. One of the ducks had nipped at her foot. When they stood to leave, she exclaimed, “They’re on the table.”

cleaning up

I’m only surprised she was surprised.

Wildlife are not supposed to eat our food (we shouldn’t eat some of it either). They can find food in nature. When they find an easy source, they’ll go for it. Wouldn’t you? It’s not healthy for them and brings them into too much contact with humans which in turn puts them in more danger. They lose their innate fear of humans. And they can become predators, such as the duck who pecked at the woman’s foot.

So please think before you throw that white bread, tortilla chip, or french fry on the ground for wildlife to enjoy. Instead, invest in a proper bird feeder and bird seed. Teach your children and grandchildren to admire the birds from a distance and show them how beautiful nature can truly be with little interference from us.

Update on the Ducks

Today when I went for the mail, I noticed the female mallard still sitting on her nest, but a pit bull came into the yard (not sure from where) and disturbed the nesting mother. She came out of the nest and began her quacking and marching around the nest area. She seemed to have it under control so I went to the mailbox. That’s when the dog starting barking and the duck starting flying and off they went. For the rest of the day, the mother never returned to the nest.

When my husband came home from work, I told him about my exciting day here in Raccoon Township (there was also an incident with a rabbit, but I’ll save that for another post). I know he wanted to sit on the patio and drink our newly uncapped Belgian Ale after a hard day’s work, but he humored me and walked to the front yard to check on our little family. The mother still hadn’t returned but the eggs remained.

“Wait, there’s something happening in there,” my husband said as I turned to walk back to the patio. “One of them is hatching.”

Sure enough. I took a few pictures as one emerged and a second one began its entry into the rural world of western Pennsylvania. Then we decided it was time to leave them alone so their mother could return. We turned around and there she was patrolling the yard, looking for pit bull.

My husband and I, married only for two years, are past child-bearing and -rearing days.

“You always wanted to have a child together, now we’ll have seven,” I said as we walked back to our comfortable chairs overlooking the garden.

“That’s it?” my husband. “That was pretty easy.”

I smiled and took a sip of my ale. Easiest labor I ever had.

The Saga of the Mallards Continues

A couple of nights ago, our doorbell rang. When I answered it a young boy, around ten years old, stood on the front porch hopping from one foot to the other. His dad stood behind him.

“My dog came into your yard and found duck eggs in the bushes out there,” he said pointing to the area behind our mailbox. “Come see.”

I followed him outside and sure enough, there were ten eggs in the bush, but no adult ducks anywhere around.

“I told the lady at the farm we had ducks laying eggs in our yard,” the father said. “She told me to smash the eggs and shoot the duck.”

I guess she’s tired of the way her ducks have multiplied, but we don’t see it that way. Sure, they’re an annoyance when they decide to do their duty on the patio. And yes, it’s no good when they decide to lie down in the onion beds. But we can’t kill them. We can scare them away; we can make it uncomfortable for them to stay around here, but in actuality we’ve had fun watching them. And we do live in a rural area – we moved into wildlife territory.

This morning I went to check on the eggs, and the female had returned to the nest. I read that the male mallard doesn’t hang around after the eggs are laid. The other day, I drove past the farm where the ducks originated, and six adult male mallards walked in front of my car. Probably on their way to the golf course while the females stayed home to rule the roost.

We also have a robin nest on our patio ceiling. Every year this poor robin builds a nest there. We’ve tried discouraging it by putting up cardboard pieces, but this year we gave in. This morning I spied a baby peeking up over the nest while the mother went in search for worms.Nature is in her glory this time of year, and who are we to fight it? What’s going on with the wildlife at your place? Any suggestions on keeping the ducks from pooping on the patio?

The Real Mallards of Raccoon Township

My own backyard as the setting of the next biggest reality show to hit the airwaves since Love in the Wild, I imagined. Since there’s a reality show for everything and anything, why not follow the antics of those wild and crazy mallards wandering in our yard and garden in recent weeks?

It started innocently enough. One day a couple, obviously in the mating stage of love, showed up in the backyard. The male held his neck high in the air exposing his shiny green neck to the wind while she kept her beak in the dirt. Their actions represented their respective appearances very well. His beauty acts as a decoy to her undistinguished brown, black, and white feathers as she searches for food in the dirt.

Mallard couple

One morning when I came outside to take a few pictures of the wandering couple, the male had disappeared and the female continued her beak-in-the-soil pursuits. That’s when I decided to learn a little more about this duck strutting in our space.

The name mallard comes from the Latin word for “male” and refers to the male mallard’s habit of not hanging around to help raise the ducklings. So when the male disappeared, I assumed the female had laid the eggs somewhere on the property, and Mr. Mallard decided it was time to get out of the territory.

That’s not exactly what happened. I learned it was a little early for the nesting process. She’s just getting her fill of food in order to do the job of incubating the eggs when she does sit on the nest, sometime in early May. The male returned within a day, but he came with a surprise. He was now following another female and kept her close to his “first wife” as he continued the ritual of standing guard as the two soon-to-be mothers dabbled in the dirt.

And then there were three

My husband and I laughed at the spectacle and that’s when I thought of the reality show idea. If the not-so-real housewives of New York and Atlanta can parade as “real” anything, then why wouldn’t the antics of three mallards in Pennsylvania stand a shot? If a show called, Lady or a Tramp, can make it to TV, why not a show about wildlife gone truly wild in a place called Raccoon Township?

However, this morning my hopes were dashed when my husband appeared in the door of my office as I began writing this blog.

“Those ducks have got to go. They just think they can rule the roost,” he said. “Now one of them has made a bed in my onions. We let them get away with it, and now they think they can do anything.”

So I went back to my search on mallards, this time inputting the phrase “How to get rid of mallards in backyards and gardens.” The suggestions I found offered humane solutions: stand plastic wildlife, such as owls and swans, or even a blow-up alligator, next to the pool or garden. To honor my past Florida life, I do have two plastic flamingos in the herb garden. I realized the ducks never go over there so I offered to let my husband borrow them. He wasn’t keen on the idea of pink birds guarding his precious vegetables.

Guarding the snow

I also told him that spraying water at them would let them know this wasn’t the Holiday Inn.

“The hose,” he said. “That’s a great idea.”

The best comment I saw on some of the sites offering solutions to the mallard problem was the one I often thought about residents who complained about wildlife when I worked for Florida’s wildlife agency: “If you don’t want wildlife in your yard, perhaps you shouldn’t live in the country.”

Living in peace with wildlife, even the polygamists, is possible. But I think my idea for a reality TV show was just hosed.

Night falls in Raccoon Township

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

My  husband bends over the soil, gently poking his onion seedlings into the ground. His concentration on the task rivals the greatest of Zen masters. He’s in a race to beat the rain hanging heavy in the dusk of day. Birds swoop low to the recently filled feeders. I imagine they are stocking up before the storm.

Soon, when the tenderest of plants go in the ground, the bird feeders will disappear to the garage until October. The birds will still come to the trees in our yard, and later in the summer,  they will feast on the seeds of our 12-foot tall sunflower plants.

We have a new addition to our garden here in the hilltops of western Pennsylvania high above the Ohio River. A mallard duck couple escaped from the menagerie at the farm across the street and waddled over to our place. The two lovebirds sit in the grass just beyond the patio or stroll the grounds poking for bugs and dropped bird seeds. They walk together, with the larger and more colorful male always standing guard over the brown, black and white speckled female. The shiny dark green head of the male dips quickly for a seed before coming back to stand erect over his mate’s lowered pecking head.

Peace settles over the garden as a storm moves its way from the west.

“I planted them all,” my husband says as he unbends from the ground, his hands black from the soil he nurtured the day before with sand and mushroom manure.


Planting onions


Mallards on parade


Sunflowers as tall as the trees

Later, the rain gently fell on the onions, while the storm never quite materialized. The ducks retreat to a spot beneath the deck in our yard, and I go inside to prepare dinner for my gardener.