I beheld a strange sight when I stepped out my door this morning: a pair of cute little baby duckies waddling down the sidewalk, all alone and peeping frantically. They passed right by my house (of course—the miasma of evil is not inviting), turned left at my neighbor’s driveway, went up the sidewalk, and hopped up the stairs to their door. It was so peculiar — I haven’t seen any ducks in my neighborhood lately, and these two helpless ducklings were clearly lost — that I went up to the door, frightening the little guys away, to ask if they’d been raising ducks and had a couple of escapees. No, they were as mystified as I was. We caught them and put them someplace safe, but now I’m wondering…
I don’t believe in omens so I don’t really need an ornithomancer to interpret the movement of birds, but being a few miles from the nearest body of water does make me wonder what the heck they were doing here. My neighbor is going to call the DNR to see what can be done with them, too.
Blake Stacey, OM says
A general ornithomancer will be useless in this situation. What you need is a specialist: an anatidaemancer.
The most important question to be resolved is did you place them in a row?
Michael Clear says
Clearly Jesus sent those ducks to you so you will repent your sinful ways. If I were you, I’d start talking about how the Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve and how dinosaurs died out because the ark ran out of room.
I think you should bring them up to be adult atheist ducks that proselytize the unsuspecting.
PZ Myers says
Come on, I’m in an underpopulated, rural area…the nearest anatidaemancer is probably tens of miles away.
Also, I think with two ducks they’ll always be in a row. Two ducks define a straight line.
Dutch Vigilante says
It proves that ducks are stupid, They need their brains for flying.
I’d feed them to the squids.
A couple of weeks ago I looked out my back window to see a momma duck being followed by 19, NINETEEN ducklings.
Momma was looking a little unsteady on her feet which, unless ducks babysit, makes some sense.
19 ducklings. Holy crap.
Sounds like you and your neighbor have the situation under control pretty well, but others might find this information useful in the same situation.
The National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association provides some helpful links, including:
How to locate a Wildlife Rehabilitator
I found a baby bird–now what?
I found a baby mammal–now what?
Greg Laden says
Well, this time of year, there are a LOT of extra ducks. They’ve got to go somewhere so they can be Selected Against. Eaten by dogs, run over by cars, or just starve to death.
If this did not happen within three years the earth would be covered from the deepest sea to the top of Mount Everest with duck.
It is natures way.
Momma was looking a little unsteady on her feet which, unless ducks babysit, makes some sense.
Some species of waterfowl do babysit, I’ve seen mixed groups of five or six female Mallards swimming on a pond with about 50 ducklings between them, and I know some geese will double-up on broods to allow one mom to go out and forage (or whatever).
Still, even being the temporary babysitter for 19 ducklings has got to take it out of you.
re my post above, I should have included a link to the main page of the National Wildlife Rehabilitation As’n as well.
(since the spelled-out name includes “Ass”, I abbreviated it that way, because the spam filter wouldn’t let the link through.)
“Some species of waterfowl do babysit…”
This was a Muscovy duck, stumbling along behind my place headed away from the pond, with a huge crowd of little brown things behind her.
Heh, I was under the impression that an “ornithomancer” was someone who conjured birds (I believe that “mancer” is Latin or something for “maker”). Though I guess knowing that there was an active ornithomancer of this sort in your neighborhood would at least explain how they got there.
Clearly you missed your big opportunity. You should have taken the ducks in, built a huge set of scales, and gone looking for witches.
I’d hate to think of you being turned into a newt because you were caught unawares.
I’ve dabbled in augury a bit, and I know that left is bad. Really bad. You probably shouldn’t hold that vote today.
There used to be a big pond where my parents housing estate is, so we’d have loads of ducklings all over the place. As the big kid on the street I was constantly being called upon to rescue them from drains and things which they could only just fall through. Fluffy little bastards, Izzard was right.
If your concern is the ducklings, PZ, be careful not to summon the traditional haruspex.
Thony C. says
They could have been so positioned as to mark the two ends of a catenary.
Sorry, can’t help you. My specialty is haruspicy. If you need the meaning of a funny-shaped lobe on a sheep’s liver explained, I’m your man, though.
Rey Fox says
Ducks often nest surprisingly far away from water. Possibly as a predator avoidance strategy.
A couple Sundays ago driving back from the lake on I-94, I was on the part through North Minneapolis that is 8 lanes (4 in each direction). I saw something in the road in front of me.
Yes, it was a mother duck and about 5 babies. They had already successfully crossed 2 lanes of the interstate.
They were all alive when I passed them, waiting on the dashed lines to cross the next lane. If they made it across all 4, only a concrete barrier was awaiting them. They’d have to go back. I can’t think about it…
Evolving Squid says
Maybe the FSM was providing dinner for two, in a “do it yourself” kind of way?
The numerous stormwater detention ponds in Indianapolis attract flocks of geese and ducks. Before moving here I rarely saw water fowl but now there are at least 6 or 7 nests within 300 feet of my apartment.
Ducklings are incredibly adorable, but I am a bit tired of their complete lack of regard for drivers. You would think that since we let them live by our retention ponds that they would at least cross streets quickly and at cross walks.
NC Paul says
Are you sure that they weren’t just particularly cunningly disguised Jehovah’s Witnesses?
This omen fortells that we are all quite likely to misplace out mothers.
Duck a l’Orange, obviously.
RavenT, thanks for the helpful links. The flow chart in the baby bird link is pretty neat; I should have had one of these when I was a kid and tried to rescue a lot of baby birds – it probably would have saved some birds from my well-intentioned but unnecessary “help”.
Scotty B says
PZ: Two ducks define a straight line.
Its true! I just looked up ‘straight line’ on dictionary.com and under definition 1d: see Two ducks
I don’t know about your region of Minnesota, but your state is well within the range of several tree hole nesting species that might well do their thing a considerable distance from ponds and lakes.
You don’t need an ornithomancer, you need a culinary expert. In about 6 weeks at the latest. Until then, lots of grains….
Unless you’re aiming at foie gras. That would take a bit longer and that force feeding, well, that does take some effort…
Foie gras linked to Alzheimer’s
Ducks sometimes make a nest as far as a couple of miles from their home body of water, particularly if there are predators around (coyotes, hawks, etc.). When the eggs hatch, the mama walks the ducklings back to her home body of water. But if some of the ducklings are a little slow in hatching, Mama Duck has to choose between waiting around (and risking that some of the extant quackers will get picked off) or sacrificing the slow-hatchers for the sake of those already out and about.
I’m guessing your two duckies either got lost during the march to the river/pond, or they were late hatchers.
Theo Bromine says
How did you know they were ducks? Did you make that assumption, simply because they looked like ducks and quacked like ducks?
Around these parts, we don’t have an oversupply of ducks, but there is a plethora of Canada Geese. They are particularly abundant, and treated with great deference, at my place of work, and as a result they have virtually no fear of humans or vehicles. A few weeks ago, I had to pop in to work for a few minutes in the evening. It was a cool night, and there were about 20 geese (~3 families), apparently settled down for the night, right in the middle of the (internal) road, presumably taking advantage of the stored heat. I gradually approached with my car, thinking they would get out of the way. The geese did not budge. I started honking (the car horn). A few of them stood up, gabbled a bit, then sat down again. I opened the door of the car and started to get out. A few of them got up, moved a bit and sat down again. The road is flanked on both sides by ponds, and there was insufficient space for a car between the geese and the edge. I was too softhearted to try to run them over with the car, and too much of a wimp to try to confront them in person, so I backed up and found a different road to my entrance. As I entered the building, I heard squealing of brakes and horns honking – maybe the next person had a better strategy, since when I left, there were no longer geese in the middle of the road (no bodies either).
…two ducks define a straight line….
yes, but a straight line is not necessarily a row. You could have put them in a column?
PZ, you don’t need to make up words like “ornithomancer” when we already have a perfectly good word, auspex (plural auspices), for the concept. The word is interesting; originally it was a compound word avis-spex “bird-looker”, but apparently it was a really common word in Latin and it got worn down a bit.
CCP: you had to ruin it as I was droolingly daydreaming…
But by the reasoning in that piece you’d expect the French to have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s than denizens of other countries. Don’t think that’s true, though.
Troublesome Frog says
We have ducks all around where I live and I’ve often wondered how high mother ducks can count. Clearly it’s easy for even a duck to tell the difference between “I have no ducklings” and “There’s a duckling following me.” It’s not clear to me that they’re very skilled at accounting beyond that. As far as I can tell, most duckling losses aren’t due to predation or disease or anything like that. Mom just leave ’em behind and doesn’t notice that she’s down a body or two. “Did I have four or five? Oh well…”
John Emerson says
Canada geese parents bring their goslings together in flocks known as “creches” and the goslings are communally looked after by all the adults. It’s like a big kindergarten with the adults sharing the babysitting duties. They do this because the goslings will be safer; there will be more adults looking out for danger for the entire flock.
In PZ’s general area I frequently see ducks and especially Canada geese swimming with rafts of 10-20 goslings. A little googling found these links.
Well, this time of year, there are a LOT of extra ducks.
Enjoy the birds while you still can. Many common species are in decline.
DISAPPEARING COMMON BIRDS SEND ENVIRONMENTAL WAKE-UP CALL
There are two geese around here that, instead of going south for the winter, move into this one guys garage. Every once in a while they walk out, stare at the snow, and then walk back inside. I guess they mistook his garage for Mexico–maybe the ducklings have the same kind of identification problem?
JohnnieCanuck, FCD says
Via cuteoverload.com, here’s a picture of a Canada Goose creche. The caption claimed 37 goslings. Apparently some of them wouldn’t line to get in the picture.
I found an abandoned (I’m sure of that, because it was getting dark and it was sleeping on the sidewalk) fledgling dove in a park near the lab I work in. Knowing it wouldn’t survive overnight with the cats, dogs and rodents in the park, I took it home (it was easy to catch, darkness made it very sleepy). At first it wouldn’t eat, but I force fed it with whole grain bread soaked in de-lactosed milk (carbohydrates and protein) and hard boiled egg yolk (lipids, vitamins and more protein). Soon enough, I had just to hold the pieces in front of it, and it would take them (even begging by pecking my fingers before I started). Now it’s eating chicken feed all by itself and has grown quite well. I don’t expect it to become tame, because it’s very nervous and close human contact with it makes it scared. When I caught it, it still had a lot of fleece, but now it has the complete adult plumage. I think I should set it free at the park. Any suggestions?
PS. We don’t have wildlife rehabilitators in Mexico, so the only choice was that I take care of the dove.
Ooops! That should be down, instead of fleece.
Buttercup Festival has a suggestion. Of sorts.
That was kind of you to take it in and take care of it, Ribozyme.
I’m not a bird person, so I couldn’t say for sure, but I think your plan to set it free near where you found it would probably be a good one. But first you might want to try to find a wildlife rehabilitator specializing in birds who’d be willing to answer questions by email. He/she could confirm that it’s a good idea, or could point out some things that you or I might not think to take into account. But releasing animals back into the wild whenever possible is the goal for rehab; unless you know some particular reason not to, it would probably be just fine to release it as you plan.
If you do want to try to contact someone first, there are a lot of names of rehabbers at the NRWA site. I found someone in Mexico (no email), but he specializes in raptors, it seems [search the page for “Mexico”]. For doves, I found someone with an email who works in Italy; perhaps she would be able to provide some information for you [search the page for “dove”]. Google might also help.
But you took it in and helped it, and now you’re planning to set it free in the wild–you’re already pretty much doing what a wildlife rehabber would do in the same situation. That bird was very fortunate that you found it.
Thanks, RavenT (kind of peculiar that you, being a raven, say that you aren’t a bird person). I’ll check the experts. The misgivings I have are that the dove might be lacking some kind of training by the parents and not be able to take care of itself properly (at least, seeing that it doesn’t like to have mammals (me) too close nearby, gives me some piece of mind; it doesn’t like my cat either). Also, it has been sitting in a cage (the largest I could find) and I’m also afraid that its flight muscles aren’t well developed. I’m willing to take the risk to set it free but, as you suggest, I first will get as much information as possible to make the best decission.
The matter of the dove currently not being very happy when I come nearby, after I sort of saved its life and, when it was smaller, would perch on one of the fingers of my left hand while I fed it with my right one, made me think of a good comparison too the purported Abrahamic god – human relationship. I don’t think the dove can do better to somehow be grateful to me. It isn’t in it, its instincts. I don’t blame it for that, get furious about it or excute some kind of eternal punishment. And I’m just an imperfect human being, not a supposedly perfect all knowing all loving deity. And if had made it that way, I would have even less reason to complain. The Abrahamic god is so stupid!
Convergent evolution only :) — my unpronounceable first name has nothing to do with birds, but because it contains the string “Raven”, that’s emerged as my nickname.
Yeah, that’s where someone who actually knows birds specifically might have some really relevant information that you and I wouldn’t know about. Your point about the flight muscles was another good one, that I hadn’t even thought of, and I agree that the timidity around mammals is a good sign that it’s probably not too trusting.
Release back into the wild (even by specialists) is always some degree of risk, but it sounds like you have really thought this through, and if you decide to do it, you will have given the dove preparation for the best possible chance it could have.
:) Good point! I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but you’re right. If parents are supposed to prepare their children to be functional, secure, independent adults, then, as ichthyic pointed out earlier, he’s kind of a deadbeat dad.
Oops! (Comment #49) I meant to say “peace of mind”, not “piece of mind”. That’s the problem with letting one’s unconscious mind do the typing.