All ducklings always follow their mother - everywhere! But not so with Robert. He was truly a free spirit. When Bianca walked to the right, Robert walked to the left. When his mother and his four little siblings took a nap, Robert wanted to eat. When Bianca decided it was time for the ducklings to take a bath, Robert wanted to catch bugs on the lawn. Bianca was beside herself, for no duckling had ever done this to her. Very dangerous behavior for a helpless little duckling whose only protection lay in staying very close to his mother. At first Bianca gently nudged Robert and quietly spoke to him. When this didn't work, she began to cluck louder and louder. When that didn't work, she chased him with four little yellow ducklings in tow. And when she finally caught up with him, she angrily admonished him, fluffing up her feathers and, practically, stamping her webbed foot in a maternal tirade! I could almost see her pulling her hair - excuse me - feathers out as I once had done some years back. I couldn't help but smile to myself thinking "I guess every mother has one". And so the adventurous, free-spirited, "bad" little duckling who never listened to his mommy was named Robert James - Robert J for short - after a brown eyed, curly-haired little boy who was the middle one of the three little loves of my life.
Robert’s free spirit notwithstanding, it's his personality that’s so captivating. He’s a real charmer and quite a lady’s man. He chases all the girls - even though he has only one true love in his life, Patches, to whom he always returns.
When all the girls are settled in their nests, Robert disappears. The first summer, I was devastated for I was certain that something bad had happened to him. The second summer, I was slightly less concerned. The third summer, my husband decided to find out just where Robert disappears to. He checked all our neighbors’ backyards to no avail. The hunt was on! Finally, early one morning, he found Robert crossing the road at the end of our creek, nonchalantly strolling to the local bar, Hogan's Goat, for his breakfast. The lady who owns the bar loves him and feeds him every day.
Robert J. does not return until fall whereupon all the girls, including his beloved Patches, literally beat him up, jumping on top of him - all at once -and chasing him into the creek. This behavior continues for about two weeks and then Robert is allowed back. The girls never act like this with any other male. So, I fear that Robert most likely promises the girls everything and gives them nothing.
Over the years, the bond between Robert and Patches grew into something very special. They were inseparable. I could look out any window or go out any door and there, sitting under a shrub or luxuriating on the cool grass, were the lovebirds. Sometimes, they had their lovers' quarrels and one or the other would go stalking off into the creek. But, their anger didn't last very long and, once again, they'd be sitting side by side like a wonderful old married couple, content and happy just to be with each other.
Robert is the proverbial duck with "nine lives". A few years ago, I was awakened by the sound of flapping wings and loud frightened quacks. I ran to my front windows and there on my lawn were two huge dogs chasing some of my muscovies, a pair of mallards and Robert. With the exception of Robert, all of the ducks could fly and quickly did so. One of the dogs, a boxer named Bailey, who lived across the street, grabbed a stunned Robert and was triumphantly taking him home. Of course, by this time "Grandma Duck" was out the front door in her nightgown - no robe - screaming at Bailey to "put Robert down"! School buses and cars were stopped while everyone watched in horror as Bailey made off with Robert. Fortunately, Bailey's owner heard all the commotion, came out and took a very wide-eyed Robert out of Bailey's large jaws, whereupon Robert, ever the regal duck, straightened up with as much dignity as he could muster and limped across the street, totally oblivious to the traffic jam he had caused. He finally made it into my backyard via an "entrance" I had cut out, unbeknownst to my husband, years ago in the bottom of my fence and collapsed under my lilac bush. Robert lay there in the shade exhausted from his near-death experience, ignoring the cool water and cracked corn that I had quietly placed near him. He did seem to brighten up just a bit when Patches came to sit by him, and, there, with the fragrance of lilacs wafting in the warm air, the two lovebirds rested all day.
The summer of 2000, took its toll on Robert and when he reappeared in the fall, he was a mess. He had lost a great deal of his feathers and the arthritis that he seemed to suffer in his legs, looked like it had gotten much worse. Robert was now seven years old and I truly didn't think he would make it to eight. However, while never a really big eater, Robert was holding his own at feeding time - usually an excellent sign in wild ducks - and, I must confess, that I went out of my way to make sure that he had his own bowl of fresh water and corn. All I could do was hope for the best and be prepared to help nature help him if there was not going to be a happy ending.
Wintertime, usually not that cold in recent years, was uncommonly cold, icy and snowy this year. In the midst of the first snowstorm, I went looking for Robert, food in hand, but, I couldn't find him anywhere. I feared the worst and, as the days went by with no sign of him, I started to lose hope. After four days the cold front passed and the sun finally came out - and so did Robert! I've always felt that Robert was my most "street smart" duck and he certainly proved it. The heavy snow laying atop some of my huge ornamental grasses down by the creek had flattened them into almost an igloo shape, and as the sun shone that happy day, Robert left the comfort of his new found home where he was probably toasty warm all snuggled up in his igloo while I nearly froze to death looking for him!
Robert's feathers began to grow back and, before long, he was hanging with his friends, Big Whitey and Patches and Peanuts, and, happily, it seemed that, once again, Robert had beaten the odds. Spring very slowly began to overtake winter and, as the days became longer, I could almost feel the spirit of rebirth and renewal in the air. That is, until I found Robert stretched out in my sanctuary. I tentatively called to him and I was so relieved when I saw him move. However, my relief was rather short lived. As Robert hobbled over to the food, he could barely put any weight on his right leg. I stayed with him making sure that no one would chase him away from his food. I knew that I had to take Robert to the vet, but, I also knew that capturing him would be no easy task. And sure enough, it wasn't! I don't know how he did it but Robert got away from me and my trusty fish net. A good sign, at least, I thought, because the ease with which I can catch my wildfriends usually equates to the severity of their injury. I watched Robert swim away not knowing whether I was happy or sad or whether I would ever see him again.
Another two days passed without a sign of Robert. My husband drove around to the other side of the creek to ask the workers at the dredging company if they would please keep an eye out for Robert and, before he left, they all conducted a thorough search for him, but, Robert J. was not to be found.
The third day went by and still no Robert. We checked across the creek again, but, no one had seen him. In my head, I unconsciously found myself planning a final tribute to Robert. The workers leave at 3:30 each afternoon and, as I searched for Robert with my binoculars, I saw him under one of their big pipe trucks, laying so still and stiff. I just couldn't bear for Robert to die such an ignoble death - all alone in a deserted yard underneath a dirty, rusty old truck. And, then, I saw his black head come up with that blue eye. Isn't it just like him to wait until everyone goes home to come out from wherever it is that hides him so well!
More days passed and still no Robert ... that is - until today. I walked into my sanctuary and there nestled between my flowerpots was Robert. And, as I gently walked over to him to see how his leg was doing, he just picked himself up - as if nothing had been wrong in the first place - and walked over to eat. And, when he had enough, he just ambled over to the dock, jumped into the creek and happily swam away. Later on, I saw him cavorting in the the water with Patches. I could only shake my head with incredulity wondering just how many more lives does Robert have?
It is now mid-May and for the past three weeks, I have been trying to capture Robert so that I can take him to Dr. Herbold, my wonderful wildlife vet, to have his leg checked. His right leg has gotten much worse. I'm sure it is badly broken and I'm not wanting to think of the possible consequences. I have managed to get Robert into my net two or three times, but, it's always been near the creek and he always escapes into the water just as I am transferring him into my pet carrier. A good sign, I tell myself, even with my bionic hands, Robert is still strong and still swims well.
Finally, Robert J. came into my backyard, away from the water, and my husband was within calling distance. Together, and it did take the two of us, we managed to get Robert into my pet carrier and off I went to Dr. Herbold. Part of me didn't want to take Robert - I didn't want to lose him yet, not so soon after Peanut - and the other part of me knew that I had no choice - I couldn't allow him to suffer.
Except for a few minutes at the beginning of his exam, Robert was the very model of a model patient and so began Life #10 for Robert J. His leg was not broken, but, his injury is neurological in nature. Diane, Dr. Herbold's trusty assistant, wondered aloud if perhaps Robert's past life and his numerous visits to the local bar had anything to do with his present condition???!!!???
On the serious side, Dr. Herbold prescribed pills and vitamin B and B6, and, happily, off Robert and I went. When we arrived home, the first thing I did, after carefully transferring Robert into his recuperation pen, was to put his pills on top of a bowl of cracked corn, whereupon, Robert, the compliant patient that he is, gulped them all down! Robert J. has a three week reprieve. Let's all hope that the medicine works!
Unfortunately, Life #11 was not to be ... Sadly, Robert J., my much loved charismatic , "wild-friend", crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, May 28, 2001, accompanied by his best buddy "Big Whitey" ... I know Peanut and Gypsy were there waiting for him ... Godspeed, my little friend ... I will miss you so much ...
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Copyright (c) 2000, (c) 2001, (c) 2002, (c) 2003, (c) 2004 by Maria's Duck