Duck Tales

Criag Shepherd feeding ducks

Honk the Goose

Honk was the first goose I had to care for.  He was found in a paddock near our property and seemed unable to walk and keep up with the gaggle and was found to have arthritis. I put him on a course of Deer Velvet tablets after hearing that these had helped with a friend’s dog that suffered from arthritis.  For a wild goose he did not take long to become relatively tame.  I housed him in a protective environment and so he ended his years well fed and happy.  I was never able to determine his age but Honk survived several more years before needing to be euthenaised when his arthritis became too painful.

Stumpy the Duck

I don’t recall how I ended up with Stumpy; he either flew in or was delivered from the SPCA.  However, Stumpy (named as one of his legs is only a stump) has been with me for a long time.  He was in very poor condition but he worked out that we were happy to feed him at our back door twice a day.  He is a feisty old guy, to the point where he would continue to fight with other drakes even though his balance was not good.  He then spent a year in the main aviary as we thought he would not be able to protect himself from any predators but have now released him again. Whilst in the aviary he managed to father clutches of ducklings despite his stumpy leg.

Patricia the Paradise Duck

Patricia is our "house duck", if such a thing is possible. She has been with us for over six years now and in this time she become tame enough to be held tightly and taken for a ride on the back of the quad bike. Most evenings she would be found on an outside table by the kitchen window watching us prepare our evening meal. Regularly she would join Julie my partner outside for breakfast. She was quite the guard duck, in that she has been known to chase cars around our driveway and she would also fly above my car as I headed into town. Sometimes I would have to pull over and hide under trees until she flew by as I had no idea how far she will follow me on my drive from home. Then she met a drake paradise duck and became more focused on her boyfriends. I say "boyfriends" as over the last three years she has come home from her annual Christmas moult migration with a different mate each time and has has two clutches of ducklings.

Gos the Goose

When wandering around our property in 2004 I observed a gosling in the stream and thought nothing more of it figuring that it had simply got separated from it's family. The next day it was still in the stream on it's own so I captured it and discovered that both of its legs were hot and inflamed. A visit to the vet revealed septic arthritis so home she came with a course of antibiotics to manage the infection. She spent the next couple of months in the garage in a big bath-like tub recuperating. One day I was in there when the phone rang and heard Gos honking in time with the phone ringing) (honk-honk, honk-honk). It was so funny; she had obviously heard the phone ring so often that she only did nine and a half honks and stopped as that was how long it took for the phone to go to voice mail. One smart goose! Gos now has a mate Gabby and she wanders (well limps really because of the arthritis) happily around our property and is still fairly tame. Gos has had two clutches of goslings and Gos and Gabby have now taken on a rehabbed Canadian Goose that we call Candy. We are not yet sure of Candy's sex but I am sure we will eventually.

Death by Motor Vehicle

“There’s a hawk having a good feed of something and a pile of feathers out on the front lawn”.

Julie had just arrived home from work and spotted the Harrier Hawk on our front lawn by the road.

I went out to have a look and the Hawk flew off leaving the nearly totally stripped carcass of something lying next to a pile of feathers. This is typical of a “car hit”

An initial inspection revealed the remains to be a Mallard and upon closer inspection I found that there was a Department of Conservation (DoC) band on one leg but of more concern to me was the black nylon cable tie band on the other leg with 2 number discs on it.

The DoC band meant that in all likelihood I had raised it, banded and released it so I was sad on that count but the black nylon band is a band that usually indicates the bird has had some special care from us; more than just being raised from an orphan until it could be released.

I took what little that was left of the carcass into the garage and removed both tags. The carcass then went into a plastic bag and into the freezer for future burial.

I bagged the tags and took them into my office to check them on my computer records.

I reviewed my road camera footage and saw a cyclist stop at dusk that morning and pick up something off the road and put it over my fence onto the lawn so that confirmed that this duck had been hit and killed by a car.

The DoC band #27-103020 record showed that it was a male Mallard that I had banded and released 11 months earlier and it weighed 1216 grams at time of banding.

The black nylon tag # 39 showed that it was a Male mallard duck that had been given its nylon tag by me 27 months earlier.

It had a “hospital name” of “Diesel 2”

It was one of three Mallard ducks rescued from Wiawhetu Stream in Lower Hutt by Lower Hutt City Council Staff. A bus travelling down the hill road from Wainuiomata to Lower Hutt had broken down and as part of the break-down it had dumped a load of diesel onto the road. The diesel had run into the storm water drain and ended up in the Wiawhetu Stream where it had ultimately coated the feathers of at least three ducks that lived on the stream.

The Council staff had given the three rescued ducks to the Wellington SPCA who had given them to Karin Wiley who runs Native Bird Rescue (Wellington) Trust.

Karin bought them around to my place to wash the diesel out of their feathers and I took over their care from there.

Petrochemicals and many other pollutants that find their way into streams, rivers and the sea are deadly to everything that uses those waters. In some cases the pollutants are simply ingested and poison whatever has ingested it. In other cases like with birds the pollutant coats its feathers and destroys the bird’s water-proofing. In other cases it can be so heavy or sticky that the bird simply couldn't’t fly again but in a lot of cases with birds not only does it destroy their water-proofing but the birds ingest it as they try to clean themselves so they suffer the toxic side effects of ingestion of a pollutant as well.

All birds rely on a water-proof covering of feathers to stay dry and without it they get wet to the skin and either sink when they should float or get cold and die of hyperthermia.

If you can clean the pollutant out of a birds feathers and the ingested pollutant does not kill the bird then you have a chance of rehabbing it. This rehabbing generally involves rehydrating the bird, cleaning its feathers, eyes, mouth and nostrils and feeding it and keeping it clean and warm until it can create its own waterproofing again using its own natural feather oil that comes from its preen gland on its back near its tail.

Once the bird is healthy and 100% waterproofed it is capable of being released.

This particular duck survived as did one of the other two and after three months in my hospital area it was black tagged and released to the main aviary where we could keep an eye on its general health and waterproofing.

A year later when doing routine health checks on the aviary birds we decided it was fit for release so it was DoC banded as well and let go.

It is always saddening to me when a bird gets killed but it is heartening that so many people will go to so much trouble without reward to look after sick and injured birds and animals as happened in this case. Every animal dies but this duck had a second chance at life after being rescued from his polluted stream. It is a bit ironic though that it was a vehicle that ultimately claimed its life in the end after a vehicle break-down had nearly claimed its life initially several years earlier.

Ducks, Drakes, Ducklings and Goslings – You lose some, you win some.

I was in my office when Naya the vet phoned from her clinic in Silverstream. “Hi Craig, I have a duckling here with balance problems. I have examined it and there is nothing obviously wrong but it either has an inner ear infection or a neurological issue as it keeps rolling onto its back, will you take it?”

I was in my office when Lei the practice manager from the local vet clinic phoned “Hi Craig, a taxi driver has bought in a duck that has been hit by a car. The vet has had a quick look and it seems fine, it probably just needs some R&R, will you take it?

These are the starts of two stories that are not untypical of bird rehabilitation.

I drove some 30km out to Naya and had a quick look at the duckling. It was small and cute but kept tumbling onto its back and could not right itself. Naya prescribed a course of antibiotics in case it was simply an inner ear infection and I took it home. I named it Neuro as it certainly did seem to have neurological problems. That night I showed it to my partner Julie who has a particular soft spot for really sick ducks and she suggested we had better bring it into the house to keep an eye on while we ate dinner and watched television. I must add that Julie does not generally like birds because they flap and she has an acute sense of smell and therefore finds the smell of ducks to be generally quite offensive so Neuro must really have tugged at her heart strings.  Nor do we normally have ducks in the actual house (as I write this we have 64 ducks and 2 geese in the garage where Julie used to park her car). We set Neuro up in a little plastic bin with him being gently wedged into a horse shoe shaped towel so he could not roll over onto his back. We placed a small bowl of very wet chick crumbles just under his beak so he could eat and drink without too much effort. That night when we headed to bed Julie suggested we put Neuro in our en-suite so we could keep an eye on him. I think we were both up about every hour throughout the night changing his soiled towel and topping up his water and food. The next day I was working from my home office so I kept an eye on him. Over the next week he was shuttled into work with Julie so she could watch him and eventually we felt we felt he was strong enough to go out to the garage into our hospital ward instead of our bathroom and offices. From there he eventually went into our large outdoor aviary. Neuro has been with us about 5 years and has grown into a reasonably healthy drake. He is still quite wobbly so certainly has some neurological issues but he has fathered at least one clutch of ducklings that we are aware of so all in all a good result for a duck that would normally have been euthenaised if he had been lucky enough to make it to a vet clinic with someone who knew about avian care and knew that I would try and care for this bird.

I got a call from the Khandallah vet clinic about about a duck that had been bought in by a taxi driver. I drove the 5kms to the clinic and picked up the mature female duck. She was very passive which is a typical symptom of a car hit and probably had concussion. I took her home and set her up in a crate in the garage on a bed of shredding. She had water and chick pellets to eat. After 24hours she had not eaten which is fairly typical and this could have been due to stress, depression or simply an injury so I crop (tube) fed her on blended chick pellets for a week. A few days after getting her I spoke to the taxi driver who kindly took the duck into the vet clinic. She said that the ducks mate was circling where she found the duck day in and day out, apparently looking for his mate. Who says ducks don’t grieve for their loved ones? After a week the duck was eating on her own and behaving normally so I took her back to where she was found and released her. She simply flew out of the box and disappeared which whilst a positive result from a rehab point of view, you can’t but help feel a little sad when they go. The next day the taxi driver phoned and asked if I had released the duck as her mate was no longer circling all day. I said that I had and obviously they were back together again and “job well done” A couple of weeks later the taxi driver phoned again to say that she saw the drake circling again so she had a look around the area only to find the duck dead in the gutter. If there is a moral to the story it is that despite everyone’s best efforts you can’t teach a duck road sense.

We live on a rural property just out of Wellington that has a stream and lots of areas suitable for waterfowl to frolic and feed and roost. We have approx 100 geese on the property and whilst I think they are a fantastic bird and great parents, we have enough so Julie and I go goose egg addling every year to restrict the numbers of new births. Addling is where you shake the eggs until the air sac pops and you therefore create an egg that won’t mature into a gosling. If you simply remove the eggs, mother goose will simply lay some more so this is one way of avoiding that happening. We went searching for goose nests and came across a newly born duckling that was just about dead either from being cold or simply being the runt of the litter. So we wrapped her up in a towel and put her in the quad trailer. We then proceeded on looking for goose eggs and addling those we found. We then found a clutch of goslings that had just been born and all but one gosling ran away. When I checked the remaining gosling I found that it couldn't stand or walk so we grabbed her and took her back to the house. I held out little hope for either the duckling or the  gosling as a gosling that can’t walk isn’t something that you rehab and the duckling was limp with it’s feet curled up in the “death curl” But as long as there is life there is hope so we put them both together in an incubator with a cuddly toy and a mirror and showed them where the water and food was and pretty much had to leave it at that. Upon checking them an hour later the duckling was showing signs of life and the gosling was looking fairly bright. Within 6 hours the duckling was fairly normal and the gosling was playing mother. It was so neat to see the change. After about three days the gosling was starting to walk a little and within a week was walking normally. Within 10 days I received about 15 orphaned ducklings in several batches and put them all in with mother Gosling. She herds them up and gets them into the warmth of the incubator and they all cuddle into her, she shows them where the food and water is and they are all doing very well. Geese make fantastic parents, mother geese and their extended family protect their young until they are ready to go it alone. It is a lesson that mankind could learn.

There is nothing sexy or glamorous about looking after water fowl, only piles of duck pooh covered towels and shredding but for me it is so rewarding to see an animal survive and have a normal or near normal life that would otherwise normally die.

I look after approx 300 ducks and ducklings every year that are mostly orphaned and sometimes injured. The people who I have met through this interest are amazingly helpful and caring. Through my water fowl care I have been on the board of the Wellington SPCA, I have served as a trustee on a bird rescue trust and I have gotten involved in all sorts of bird and animal related projects. I am the chair of Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of New Zealand (WReNNZ) but equally as important I have become part of the Brown Teal (Pateke) Captive Breeding Programme whereby I have two pair of Brown Teal that should breed and the offspring will be released to help repopulate New Zealand with the critically endangered bird. Out of all that I do with birds in my lifetime, my Brown Teal work if successful will make a difference for the future generations of New Zealanders but I love caring for my ducks and geese.