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Wild Ducks and Tame Goose Compete in Our Yard
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published April 2017


Everyone who feeds birds has great stories. The best stories are about incidents that occur when one least expects it, like this morning . . .

I was going about the yard routine with our chickens, goose, and vegetable garden on a warm spring morning, when I felt as if I was being watched, causing me to look up. There, about ten yards from me was a pair of Black bellied Whistling-ducks. I walked closer to about five yards, and they held their position. These great lookers have coral bills and legs, black bellies, rufous red all over, and big eyes. They are ducks, but they behave like geese. We see them in the daytime, but they also forage at night, often flying miles to flooded fields and shallow ponds. During the night time we often hear them whistle as they fly overhead, invisible against the dark sky, and my wife Audrey says "I hear Whistling-ducks." She says this because my hearing is poor and she wants me to enjoy them as she does. These two ducks in our yard stared at me, like my cat Gordon Gray stares at me when he wants something, but does not know the right word for it.

I continued with my chores, watering the garden, pretending not to notice them. The ducks were patient with this dumb human (me), and after glancing at each other they figured out a new way to communicate with me. I had a good idea what they probably wanted, but thought it would be interesting to watch them longer. One duck jumped up on the empty bird feed table where we pile cracked corn and sorghum for the doves, black birds and sparrows. The duck scanned the empty table, then looked directly at me, and repeated the process several times. The words were crystal clear, "Hey, where is the duck food, we're starving. Please refill the table."

"Okay," I said, "I get it." Returning with a pitcher full of feed the two ducks watched from a distance. I filled the table with feed, and retired to the house to pick up my camera. When I returned outside here were the ducks both on the table. While one kept watch, the other fed on the grain. Then they switched off so the guard could eat. As they felt more comfortable, both ate together. After taking some good photos I resumed watering the garden.

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, as most Valley residents know, invade suburbia in spring and summer, seeking holes in mature Valley Ash trees where several females share a nest. They all lay eggs and take turns incubating them. As the young hatch in successive waves every few days, the females in turn take off with a group of newly hatched ducklings. Their cute babies are yellow, camouflaged with blue-black stripes and purple bills.

Having eaten their fill, the two yard ducks dropped back to the ground and sauntered over to the goose water tub, waiting as it filled for the chance to take a drink. About this time I glimpsed a good sized bird fly in and sit on the peak of the goose pen, where the goose waited patiently for release. I looked up and saw that it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk. These fast hawks prey, like Cooper's Hawk, on birds and to them a bird feeder is a bird buffet for their next meal. As I looked up, it caught sight of me, and flew off again, headed for the next yard bird feeder.

The ducks walked over to the water tub and looked inside. It was not yet full enough for them, so their retired a couple of yards. It was time to release the goose. He is a Chinese Goose, pure white with yellow bill and yellow legs, and he towers over all ducks. He ran out to his water tub, honking and flapping his wings. This was too much for the ducks and they took off, leaving the water tub to Guardian, the goose. Guardian watches our yard to earn his keep. He was hand raised by the children of a Donna pet shop owner, when we purchased him 12 or 13 years ago, so he loves being petted and carried, but that does not make him properly tame or calm. He is known to bite, leaving black and blue bruises on our legs. So it is easy to understand why the ducks gave him a wide birth.

Later in the day I noticed a duck sitting on our roof, checking out if it was safe from the goose for ducks to drop into the yard to fill up on corn and water.