When we first got chickens, we got a couple of ducks with the bargain, and enjoyed their antics as they settled in. The run and coop was too small for six chickens and two ducks, however, and The Girl and I looked forward to the day we could let them walk to the canal in front of our house.
Our neighbour – we’ll call her Moira -- had successfully trained her ducks to walk out to the canal each morning, enjoy the water through the day and walk back to their yard each night, so they required minimal feeding or supervision yet still produced retrievable eggs. The ducks stayed so close to that when we gave directions to our house, we said “turn 20 metres after the ducks.” It always worked.
Our own attempts to do this, though, failed rather completely; once we brought our ducks to the canal, they refused to come out. No amount of food could entice them back, and we could not catch them in the water.
Losing them wasn’t easy on The Girl, whose imagination filled with foxes and other hazards. “I so worry about them, Daddy,” she said solemnly -- and then, leaning in and lowering her voice in politeness, “They’re really dim. And that’s by duck standards.”
But she soon saw that the ducks were in no danger, and settling quite happily on the canal. They remain there still, occasionally mocking us from a distance, and for the next year we contented ourselves with our six chickens. Then, one night last month, there were seven -- one of Moira’s chickens apparently wandered off, found our flock, and settled in for the night.
Moira said she would retrieve the bird at some point, but never got around to it, and eventually The Girl and I carried it over, the bird under our arm. We chatted with Moira for a bit, consulted her on duck training, and eventually bid her goodbye.
The next day, I saw her walking down the road with a plastic shopping bag dangling from her fist, with a small bulge in it.
“I appreciated your bringing my hen by,” she said, “And you mentioned you lost your ducks. So I thought I’d help you replace them.”
I looked down at the bulge, smaller than a soccer ball.
There’s a duck in there? I asked.
“Nope,” she said, sounding surprised. “Two of them.”
Birds are surprisingly compressible, I said.
Photo: The Girl with the neighbour's ducks, some months ago.