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[illustration: The Goose]
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The Duck








There is so much that is interesting to tell you about the duck, that I
scarcely know where to begin. Most of you know something of the habits
of the tame or domestic duck. But perhaps you have never noticed its
curious bill, which is constructed so as to filter, through its toothed
edges, the soft mud in which these birds love to dabble. The tongue of
the duck is full of nerves, so that its sense of taste is very keen, and
thus provided the bird can find out all that is savoury to its palate in
puddles, ponds, etc., and throwing away all that is tasteless, swallow
only what it likes. Try and examine the bill of the next duck that you
see, and you will discover this wonderful apparatus which I have
described as acting like a filter. The duck is very capable of
affection for its owners, as the following fact will show. A farmer's
wife had a young duck, which by some accident was deprived of its
companions. From that moment all its love seemed to centre upon its
mistress. Wherever she went the duck followed, and that so closely, that
she was in constant fear of crushing it to death. With its age its
affections seemed to strengthen, and it took up its abode in-doors,
basking on the hearth, and delighting in notice. After some time other
ducks were procured, and, to induce it to mix with its natural
companions, the pet duck was driven out day by day; but there was great
difficulty in weaning it from the kind friend to whom it had attached
itself. We are told also of some ducklings who grew so fond of a great,
savage house-dog, that though every one else was afraid of him, they
showed no fear of his terrible bark; but, on the first approach of
danger, would rush in a body to his side, and take shelter in his
kennel. Wild ducks, or mallards, are very abundant in marshy places, and
are a source of great profit. They are in some parts shot by means of a
long gun which will kill at a greater distance than usual, because the
duck, besides being very watchful and timid, has a keen sense of smell
and hearing. In other places they are caught by decoys. These are thus
contrived. A number of ducks, trained for the purpose, are employed to
lead the wild fowl on and on through narrow wicker channels up to a
funnel net. Hemp-seed is thrown in their way, as they advance, by the
decoy-man, whose whistle is obeyed by the decoy-ducks, until the poor
strangers are quite entrapped.

China is said to be a wonderful place for rearing ducks, and, indeed,
all poultry, but in Canton many people gain a good livelihood by
bringing up ducks in particular. The eggs are hatched in ovens, and then
the young ones are brought up by people who buy them from the hatchers.
Sometimes the heat has been too great, and then the little ducks, even
if hatched at all, soon die. The way by which those who buy them find
out whether they are likely to live, is by holding them up by their
beaks. If the heat has not been too great, they will sprawl out their
little wings and feet, but if hatched too soon they hang motionless.
They are fed on boiled rice, herbs, and little fish, chopped small. When
old enough to learn to swim, they are put under the care of a clever old
duck, trained to the business. A number of these ducks with their
broods are sent down to the river in a sort of floating pen. In the
evening a whistle, which the ducks well know, recalls them to the boat
in which they were sent out. The instant this is heard the ducks come
trooping in as fast as possible, followed by their pupils. In order to
encourage them to be punctual, the first duck is rewarded with something
nice, but the last one is whipped for its laziness. And it is said to be
very funny to see how the ducks will waddle, and run, and fly over each
other's backs, that they may escape the punishment which they know
awaits the last straggler.

As to the _use_ we make of ducks, it is chiefly as an article of food
the English duck is prized. But in the Northern regions, particularly in
Iceland, there is a bird called the eider duck, which is much valued on
account of the soft and beautiful down which grows upon its breast, and
is used for pillows and counterpanes, being wonderfully light, warm and
elastic. These birds, though naturally solitary creatures, assemble in
crowds at the breeding season, and build their nests in the roofs of the
houses. They tear away this soft down as a cradle for their young. But
the people rob the nests when they are finished, not only once, but
sometimes, cruelly enough, a second time. For the poor birds, finding
the down gone, tear a second supply from their loving bosoms. If the
plunder be attempted more than twice, the birds are said to forsake the
spot entirely. The eider duck has a curious method of teaching her young
ones to swim. A few days after they are hatched she carries them some
distance from shore on her back. Then, making a sudden dive, she leaves
the little ones afloat and obliged to exert their own powers.
Re-appearing at a little distance, she entices them towards her, and
thus they at once become good swimmers.

Before concluding, I will relate an instance of the sagacity often
displayed by the tame or domestic duck. It is told by a gentleman named
Mr. Saul:--

"I have now a fine duck which was hatched under a hen, there being seven
young ones produced at the time. When these ducks were about ten days
old, five of them were taken away from beneath the hen by the rats,
during the nighttime, the rats sucking them to death and leaving the
body perfect. My duck, which escaped this danger, now alarms all the
other ducks and the fowls in the most extraordinary manner, as soon as
rats appear in the building in which they are confined, whether it be
in the night or the morning. I was awakened by this duck about midnight,
and as I feared the rats were making an attack, I got up immediately,
went to the building, and found the ducks uninjured. I then returned to
bed, supposing the rats had retreated. To my surprise, next morning, I
found that two young ducks had been taken from beneath a hen and sucked
to death, at a very short distance from where the older duck was
sitting. On this account, I got a young rat dog, and kept it in the
building, and when the rats approach, the duck will rouse the dog from
sleep, and as soon as the dog starts up, the duck resettles herself."





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