It all started pre-dawn, in the wee hours of the morning just as the light was threatening to crack the horizon to announce a new day. Something was up on our roof, scratching at the cedar shakes… something large and angry. And every time I was about to drift back to sleep, it would wake me again. In the exact moment I uttered, “What the *&$# is that noise?” I heard a ridiculously loud, “QUACK. QUACK.” Mercy — they’re back. Monsters. Both of them.
Now don’t get me wrong — I love wildlife. But anything that wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning every day for two weeks straight is bound to receive a barrage of verbal abuse along with a few rocks tossed at their head. That’s just a fact. I’m quite certain this is the same pair of ducks that decided to roost on our roof last spring. Left to their own devices, we soon had a herd, pardon me, a flock of wee ducklings wandering through the grass in our backyard.
Shocked that they’ve returned yet again, I recently did a little research on mallard ducks and their preferred habits. I’m extremely curious and somewhat desperate to understand the allure of our house, and why the mallards chose it as their love shack, seeing as it’s smack dab in the middle of a city. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned: mallard ducks tend to live in wetlands. We don’t live anywhere near water, but because the ducks usually arrive when the lakes are still frozen, a pothole filled with water will suffice. Check. Often, the female returns to the same nesting site year after year. Check. It’s illegal to be in the possession of wild ducks, eggs or any nesting material. Say what? First of all, it’s not my fault they’re here. Secondly, whatever “material” they’ve used to build their nest is likely mine to begin with so if I need it, I’m taking it back. Just sayin’.
As soon as the ducklings are ready, the mother will lead them to the nearest water source, so it’s best not to provide them with food or water so as to encourage their departure. Oops. Last year, the poor things looked peckish so I threw a big bag of birdseed in the backyard to keep them nourished, and also decided to whip out the turtle pool so they could have a go at swimming. Fearing they were too little to get up over the side, I even constructed a plank out of some wood to make it easier for them to get into the pool. I believe they call extremely helpful people like me conservationists. That, or idiot for short.
After a day or so, the mother duck ushered her offspring under the fence and took off down the path beside our house, presumably in search of a natural water source. Before we knew it, one of our neighbours was ripping out of their house with a video camera to film the adorable family… and likely the ducks as well. End result? They scared the living crap out of the mother duck and she proceeded to herd her ducklings deep into the dark depths of our garage, which was standing wide open as we had decided it was high time to clean it out. Soon, the entire neighbourhood was out revelling in the excitement. I could have made a fortune selling lemonade and stuffed animals on a stick. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was more embarrassed about — them seeing (and videotaping) the state of our garage, which at the time bore an uncanny resemblance to a marshland as one entire side was strewn with mangled foliage from a recent attempt to prune our backyard, or, the shrub-like foliage in full display on my winter-white legs, hanging out from an atrocious blue housecoat. The experts also strictly advise against anyone, especially young children, touching or handling live or dead ducks due to recent outbreaks of avian flu. Come on, people — the only fun part about having those things stuck in our garage for the full day was the photo ops with the kids. And seriously, if you can’t play with dead ducks anymore, where’s the fun in childhood?
This year however, the female duck and I have a lot more in common. I’m a week or so away from giving birth and I find myself in the serious throes of full-on nesting, the phase which my husband refers to as a complete and utter lack of common sense and good judgment, as I torment him with a list of household chores and requests that apparently baffles the average male. And don’t get me started on my waddle. The state of my caboose as of late would turn many heads at the local watering hole — away, not towards. Feeling a tad more empathetic for the ducks, I did what any self-respecting farm girl would do when in need of some sound advice — I turned to my father. Not the one who art in heaven, rather, the one who art in Manitoba. The conversation went something like this:
“So, I have a pair of mallards on my roof.”
“Whathappened to your roof?”
“Nothing happened to my roof. There’s a pair of mallards up on my roof. Like, ducks. They’re up on our roof.”
“Well, I’m not entirely certain if they’re up there at the moment but they’re kicking around somewhere. I’m thinking it’s the same pair who were here last year.”
“That’s not good. Because they tend to go back to the same place every year.”
“Yes. I know this now.” “And, they tend to mate for life.” “Also not good.”
“So I’m afraid you’re stuck with them. Hold on a second.”
I heard him mumbling to someone in the background and as I waited, my mind wandered to another potential scenario. Perhaps I should call Ducks Unlimited; they would have people who know what to do. However, I couldn’t get past one horrific possibility — that they would take one look at me in my current state and decide to film me for a new Hinterland vignette on large mammals in their natural habitat.
My nightmare was interrupted by my dad saying, “So your brother says you’re going to have to shoot them. At this point, it’s the only way to get rid of them. I don’t agree but I guess it’s another solution for you to consider.”
“Please remind him that I don’t live in a pasture. But thank him nonetheless.”
And that’s what you have to love about family; they’ll never shy away from dispensing advice. With Father’s Day around the corner, I’m reminded of how many times over the years I’ve turned to my dad for advice. Not that we always agree — he’s usually far too practical and grounded for my liking. But Dad, I want you to know that you gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person — you believed in me. Always. You taught me to enjoy the world around me and to also earn my keep. You told me that when I found someone who could make me laugh, to hold on tight because a sense of humour will help you get through almost anything. And most importantly, you taught me that giving of myself to others is the most important gift. On that note, let’s just say those mallards are lucky I still listen to my dad.
JanitaVandeVeldegrewuponafarmnear Mariapolis,Man.Sheholdsabachelorofscience degreeinagriculturaleconomicsfrom theUniversityofManitoba,andhasworked forafinancialinstitutionsincegraduating. ShelivesinRegina,Sask.,withherhusband RoddyandtheirchildrenJackandIsla.Her firstnovel,PostcardsNeverWritten,was therecipientoftheSaskatchewanReader’s ChoiceAwardandalsolistedbyCBCasone ofthetopfunnybooksin2009.Shedonatesa portionofproceedsfromthesaleofherbook toWorldVisiontohelpthoselessfortunate. Formoreinformation,ortoorderherbook, visitherwebsiteat www.janita.ca