The day my school sent out an email informing students to leave campus until after spring break was the day my sister and I went to Tractor Supply and bought six ducklings. They were nine days old and fit in the palms of our hands.
They lived in our bathtub and cuddled on a towel under a heat lamp to sleep. Since they weren’t old enough yet to produce the wax that coats their feathers to make them waterproof, we had to make sure their water bowls weren’t too big so they wouldn’t drown.
For the following months, my sister and I would play with the ducklings and monitor their weight to see who was growing the fastest. Since the ducklings were assorted at the store, we really had no idea what breed any of them were at first. We also had no idea what their sexes were.
We gave them all gender-neutral names except one, Arnold Palmer, who turned out to be a female mallard. As the ducks got bigger we were able to tell what some of them were. The little yellow duckling we named Mello Yello started to turn white and we realized she was a Pekin duck.
Since they lived in the bathtub, they were relatively easy to clean up after at first. We could just take them out and let them run around the room while we put the dirty towels in the wash and cleaned the tub.
We were buying bags of food and oatmeal constantly and going through towels at an alarming rate.
One duck got a foot infection and was unable to walk or swim, so to make sure the other ducks weren’t trampling him we gave him a separate space in the bathroom to sit and his own food and water.
The bigger they got, the more they pooped and the worse it stank. Eventually, they were too big and too messy to keep in the bathroom. We built them an enclosure in the garage that had a small plastic pool inside so they could swim whenever they wanted. Every day, we would hose out the floor of the enclosure and replace the pool water.
The sick duck, Gingerale, was still unable to walk at this point so he stayed in the bathroom. Once he recovered we moved him out to the garage with the others. I checked the other duck’s feet and found that another duck, Rootbeer had a lump on the bottom of his foot.
It looked to be the same infection, but worse even though he was still able to walk. I scheduled a vet visit for Rootbeer and drove an hour away to get help. The vet gave me medications and also told me that Rootbeer is a girl.
The medications and the foot soaks didn’t help. I saw the vet a few more times to get the foot lanced and injected but ultimately she had to get surgery. When she recovered, the ducks were moved to the yard.
We had an old playhouse that my dad converted into a shed so we built a pen around it and the ducks were able to run around in the grass and sleep in the Quack Shack at night. Eventually, we took the pen apart and gave the ducks the whole yard to explore.
One night, I heard the ducks frantically quacking and saw a coyote in the yard. I ran outside and only four ducks were there. I put them all in the pen and waited to see if the others would return. Arnold came flying home, but Gingerale never came back. We still aren’t sure if he was taken by the coyote or if he flew away out of fear and couldn’t find his way back home. Now, the ducks are locked up every night in the shack.
Right before the semester started, Mello Yello laid an egg. Now we find eggs every day.
I live in an apartment near campus so I’m not with the ducks most of the time. My parents send me pictures and videos of them in our yard and wherever else they wander off to. Even though the mallard can fly, she never leaves the others and they usually stay near the house sleeping or looking for bugs.
I love my ducks and I’d totally raise ducklings again now that I have more experience, but they were certainly a handful and got quite expensive with vet bills and food costs. They were an amazing pandemic distraction and I love visiting them when I visit home.