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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
r /> 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."