Peeper
Home Up Peanut Patches Robert J. Peeper Ducky Jack


PEEPER - The $227.00 Duckling


Each year, I always find one - an abandoned little duckling that has hatched long after his siblings and his mother have left their nest. Each and every time, no matter how often it happens, I am filled with wonder at this miracle of life. And even though I know the odds are truly stacked against me, I always bring the tiny duckling into my home, clean the little guy up and pray that he or she will make it. Sadly, they never do. They usually survive for a week or two and by then, of course, I’ve fallen in love with them and am devastated. I really do believe that in most cases Mother Nature does know best and that the little ducklings are either too weak or too sick to survive in the wild, but, I can’t just leave them there to die. I feel that I must try to help them and I’m always hoping that one day maybe - just maybe - I will finally meet a little duckling who will beat the odds...

This year, it started one stormy night in April, in a utility area of my backyard where my air conditioning units are and my garbage pails are stored. The area is surrounded on two sides by my house and a second story sun porch and on the other two sides by large cedar planters of varying heights, all of which make a cozy little area for the ducks, full of corners and nooks and crannies. Evidently, during the storm, one of the garbage pails blew against the house, leaning on it at a rather precarious angle, and leaving just enough room the next day for Hope to sneak underneath. Clearly, Hope felt that it was absolutely perfect for her spring nest and that is where, a few days later, I found her sitting on the warm pebbles, hollowing out a spot for her eggs. When she was not sitting on her nest, I’d look up to find her perched atop the lattice railing of my sun porch guarding her chosen spot from all intruders.

Two weeks had now gone by and every day I saw another egg in the nest under the pail. Ever grandma duck, I braced the pail up against the house with one of my most expensive clay flowerpots, the better with which to hold the pail in place so that it wouldn’t fall on Hope or her eggs when she wasn’t there. As she laid more and more eggs, Hope began to concentrate, as any mother-to-be would, on making a secure nest, covering her eggs whenever she left and adding lots and lots of fluffy white down to keep her eggs at the proper temperature.

 

Amazingly, Hope had the most attentive husband. Unlike most muscovy males, he patiently waited for her, just within calling distance, as she sat on her nest. As Hope began to spend more and more time on her nest, he too spent more and more time waiting for her and watching over her. In all my years of taking care of muscovy ducks, I have never seen a male stay by the nest for such a long time. Then much to my surprise, he began to sit on the nest whenever Hope decided that she needed a break. Every time she left to eat or bathe or just stretch her legs, Papa took over, so right from the beginning, I should have realized that this was going to be a most unusual event.

Just before Hope’s eggs were due to hatch, I discovered that we had no hot water in the house. My husband tried everything but could not find the problem. Finally, he called the local plumber who discovered that the pail shading Hope’s nest was blocking our hot water heater vent and, in fact, had melted onto the vent covering it completely. Imagine the plumber’s face when we told him he’d have to work over Hope’s nest and to “please be extremely careful of our expectant mother“. Our bill, a little padded, I suppose, due to the unusual working conditions and the extra stress experienced by the plumber - $227.00!

 

 

June 20, 2000, the day that I underwent my hand surgery, I came home to the wonderful, uplifting sight of Hope parading her five beautiful little yellow ducklings all over my lawn. I delightedly watched as she introduced these adorable fluffy yellow “golf balls” to my back yard taking them all along the perimeters and then into my "courtyard" where they all had a quick nap underneath Mama. When they awakened, she marched them underneath my deck into an adjacent area which I call my bird sanctuary because I have planted lots of berry producing shrubs and all sorts of special goodies for my wildfriends. 

 

When Hope arrived in the bird sanctuary, her older sister Margarite was already there with all of her brood. You can just imagine the utter chaos as all the ducklings ran around while their mothers frantically tried to sort out who belonged to whom! Finally, peace and quiet reigned and everyone happily munched and/or sat and/or swam in the bowl of cracked corn and water that I had quietly sneaked out for them.

Two days later, as I looked for Hope and her babies, I passed by her now supposedly empty nest and heard a faint little peeping sound. When I went down to look I saw a little yellow duckling laying in the hot sun, covered in mushy yolk from his egg and, most likely, from the other broken eggs too, looking for all the world like a scrambled egg omelet, not knowing what to do except peep for help.

With my one good hand, I picked him up and quickly brought him into the house for a thorough cleaning. He seemed so helpless and so very vulnerable, I really didn’t think he’d survive the night. I put lots of cuddly towels in a little box for him to keep him toasty warm and hoped for the best. I didn’t worry too much about feeding him that first day because I know from past experience that the first day or two of their lives, chicks usually never eat much. I think they get a great deal of nourishment from their egg yolk sac.

The next day I made him a concoction I call “duck soup”. No, it’s not made from ducks or chickens, but from duck pellets which I mix with water and mash until the whole thing becomes soupy. Well, the little guy just loved his duck soup. He couldn’t get enough of it. He also couldn’t get enough of me. I guess I was imprinted on him. He followed me around everywhere. and when he didn’t see me, he just peeped louder and louder until I came and got him.

Peeper, as I fittingly called him, was now jumping pretty high and the second night, even though I had covered the top of his “nest” box, he jumped out. In the morning, I found him calmly sitting by his food dish waiting for me to prepare his duck soup. The next night he graduated into my secure duck carrier where there was no escaping. Peeper was happy because he could see out of the mesh wire door and I was happy because I had the security of knowing that he was protected when I wasn’t there to look after him.

Peeper now had quite a routine. He either followed me around the house or he took naps with me or he ate. I’d never had a duckling who ate so well. I was really beginning to hope that this little yellow fuzzball would make it.

Peeper loved our naps together and they certainly aided in my recuperation. Every time I lay down, my little peeper came to bed with me snuggling under my hair. When we woke up and I wanted to transport him quickly, I just placed him in my sling. I’m not quite sure what the wonderful surgeon who repaired my hand would think of this innovative use of his sling though! Peeper, however, loved this new mode of transportation. It was like a little swing for him and for a time, he happily went everywhere with me, snuggled inside, sitting atop my cast. 

As the days flew by, he became more frisky eventually trying to jump out of my sling, especially when he didn't want to go where I did. His next mode of transportation was my deep pocket. As he grew older he especially liked that ride, because he could see better. He’d stick his little yellow head out and off we’d go.

After I had him about a week, I realized that unlike most of the other ducklings I had tried to raise, Peeper was actually thriving. I made several attempts to put him back with his mother and his three remaining siblings because I felt that this would be his best chance for survival. His mother always accepted him, but, Peeper didn’t accept her. Each time I tried to leave, he ran back to me, peeping full blast, and wouldn’t let me out of his sight. Of course, I unashamedly loved it!

When I did have to go out during the day, I’d leave Peeper in the kitchen. Like a good little duckling, he stayed underneath our cockatiel’s cage and that was where I’d find him when I got home. As he got older, he learned the sound of the front door opening and knew that it meant that I’d come home and he’d race down the foyer to greet me, peeping as loudly as he could.

 

 

Peeper truly began to take over our household. He learned the sound of the front doorbell and whenever he heard it ring, he’d run to greet our guests. Peeper even began to learn our daily routine and in the morning, I’d find him ensconced under the kitchen table waiting for us to have our breakfast. After breakfast, he insisted on a play period with my husband. He loved to fight with him, running up to him biting his sneakers or pecking at his pants. Within minutes, they would become involved in a major tug-of-war which Peeper usually won.

 

As the weeks passed, I was starting to feel a little better and I found myself taking Peeper outside more often. We’d either sit in the shade of my pear trees or walk around the yard just as I’d seen the other mother ducks do. I introduced him to new things and enjoyed his reactions, but, as much as he enjoyed his new found freedom, he always came running back to me. I also wanted to get him used to the other ducks and to supplementing my duck soup diet with the bugs and grasses that all little baby ducklings need for a healthy balanced diet. His instincts took over quickly and he was soon running around at top speed catching all sorts of yummy critters. At one point, my husband dug up a worm for Peeper, but, while Peeper knew what to do with it, he didn’t seem too thrilled with the taste.

I had no fear of losing Peeper, because he was my little shadow, following me everywhere. He was always underfoot and I had to be very careful not to step on him.

As Peeper spent more and more time running outside, the neighboring crow family discovered him. As they relentlessly circled overhead looking for a tasty tidbit for their lunch or dinner, I found myself constantly involved in major warfare with them. Whenever I saw their large black shadows on the ground, I’d look up and yell at them “You’re messin’ with the wrong Mama this time ... Don’t even think about it!” But whenever Peeper was at play in the yard, I had to be ever vigilant.

By now, Hope had lost all of her ducklings, most likely to the crow family. It is always so sad for me to watch a muscovy mother after this has happened. She spends days looking for her babies, clucking softly hoping they‘ll hear her and come back. Of her own accord, Hope came over several times to Peeper trying to teach him all sorts of things, but he wanted none of it. He always ran away from her and came to sit by me. I had to wonder if somehow Hope knew that Peeper was one of hers.

I now had Peeper one month and I realized that he thought he was just a small yellow  person. I sadly knew the time had  come for him to stop being my little baby. And so, Peeper spent his first day totally outside in his duck cage. Muscovies are very friendly ducks and they are always interested in a new duck in the duck cage. Peeper had plenty of visitors but, none as faithful as Lucky, the older Pekin duckling I was also rehabilitating. During the day, whenever I was outside, I let Peeper out of his cage as much as possible and slowly he began to be a real duckling. He had his favorite bushes and he knew his way around the yard. He always came to me and I had no trouble putting him in his duck cage at night which I would then place in the garage so that no night critters could bother him.

As Peeper became more wild, Lucky tried relentlessly to befriend him. Of course, Lucky terrified Peeper. Lucky was so big and clumsy. I’m sure that to Peeper Lucky  looked just like Godzilla. Peeper always ran away with Lucky following at a fast clip right behind. My husband and I watched this go on for days until one day we noticed that they were sitting rather close and so began their special friendship. It was heartwarming to see the big adolescent Pekin and the little yellow muscovy duckling sitting, while not quite side by side, at least within a foot or two of each other. I was so glad that Peeper had made an older friend - one who could show him the ropes which Lucky wholeheartedly did.

The weeks went by and Peeper was almost two months old. He was getting harder and harder to put in his cage at night. It now took two or three of us to catch him. And then one night the inevitable happened, I couldn’t catch Peeper. He ran so fast into an area behind my garage which I call my wildlife sanctuary. It is near to the creek and truly overgrown. I purposely let everything grow wild here because many of the birds and ducks love this natural area. But, that night, it all worked against me. I couldn’t even find Peeper. I looked for over an hour and then it began to storm. I was soaking wet and I knew I’d never find him that awful dark night. Heartbroken, I had to give up and hope for the best.

I didn’t sleep well that night and I woke up very early the next morning, I looked all over for my little Peeper but he was nowhere to be found. I looked for Peeper for days to no avail. Did he swim off in the creek? Will he come back some day? I know what my head tells me happened, but my heart tells me differently, and, I guess, for once, I’d just like to believe my heart.

I suppose I was very lucky to have Peeper in my life - even for such a short time. His antics and his happy little personality eased both the physical pain of my surgery and the emotional pain from the loss of my Gypsy. Once again, there was someone waiting for me when I came home, someone to play with outside and someone to cuddle inside. Maybe next year there’ll be another little Peeper for me to help and maybe next year, I’ll see that duckling grow up all the way. Sometimes, I find it’s so very sad to love my wild friends ...  and to want them to be free ... I cry a lot.

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