Updated: Aug 23, 2018
Elliot the Duck Sunday, October 12, 2008
This past June, Azara (our 9 years old daughter), acquired a wild baby duckling. A friend found it roaming the streets alone, and after searching for some time, found no Mama duck in sight. Since we have a pond and a menagerie of Muscovie ducks and all kind of chickens, our homestead and Azara's longing for babies and pets was the perfect solution.
Azara was ecstatic, an instant Mama Duck. She carried the duckling everywhere, under her shirt, or on her shoulder, under her flowing long hair, or strolling along in her baby carriage. We could not tell whether it was a girl or a boy duck, but Azara named it Elliot anyway because she likes that name.
The first challenge was where to keep the duckling at night, as Azara wanted to sleep with it, of course. I had to insist on no ducks and therefore no duck poop in the bed. Resigned, Azara made Elliot a little cage with a heat lamp to keep her warm, and food and water to keep her happy. The initial few nights were dreadful, because the duckling cried heartily when disconnected from her new “Mama”, and likewise, Azara sobbed in compassion for her poor little duckling that lost it's real Mother. I was not sure this was going to work. But after several nights, Elliot adjusted to her new home.
We all loved hearing Elliot peep her happy peeping whenever Azara came near. She followed Azara everywhere. The sweetest sight was when outside Azara put her down and Elliot would follow as fast as her tiny legs could carry her, peeping happily.
One day we realized Elliot was not growing as fast as we thought a baby ought to. Azara discovered that she was refusing to eat the commercial duck food. It took us a while to figure out what to feed her, and after weeks of trial and error and research, we narrowed it down to wild rice and chicken. Nothing else would suit her palate.
In the beginning I told Azara, no ducks on the counters or tables, since it really was clear that Elliot needed her Mama at all times, and came with Azara, in and out of the house. But after a while we all got such a kick out of having Elliot with us at the dining table, and while brushing our teeth, that I gave up my ideas of containing the duck, and therefore the duck poop. We all learned to carry around a rag to wipe up Elliot's piles of excrement.
The best was watching Elliot frolicking in the bathtub with Azara. Paddling in between her legs, and then resting on her belly. So adorable!
As Elliot grew and lost her fluff to feathers, it became clear that she was a Mallard female, with only a few colored green feathers on her sides. But Azara still wanted to call her Elliot!
One day Ariel (Azara’s older sister) and Azara were harvesting vegetables in our garden with Elliot at their feet. Azara inadvertently put down a heavy bucket on top of Elliot's leg. We were all so worried about her limp leg, and whether she could survive. But our Veterinarian friend came over and put a splint on the fracture, and within a couple days she was walking on it again, with a little limp. The Vet said she would be fine, but probably would become a gimpy sort of duck.
We took her everywhere with us, even to the desert, where Charlie led a Vision Quest in Eastern Oregon. There was a beautiful creek next to our campsite where we learned that Elliot could swim super fast, despite her weak leg, and was completely at ease in the swift current.
What an adventurous and wonderful summer Azara had with her baby Elliot.....but then came time to go back to school. We began to start leaving Elliot outside with the chickens and ducks for longer and longer periods of time. Azara would leave her in the pond, where she happily ate water bugs and little fish. Or we'd leave her in the garden to dig for earth worms. At night she slept in the chicken pen.
After the first days of school though, when we were all gone for most of the day, it became really clear that Elliot was mad at us. Azara was sad that she became less able to snuggle with Elliot, and sometimes could not catch her at all.
By this time though, Elliot was becoming a mature duck, having grown all her feathers, we wondered when she'd learn to fly. We could no longer bring her inside, as she was too big, and too wild. We began to feed her at our back porch step twice per day, and shortly she started coming to the back porch to quack, (now a mature quacking sound), for her wild rice and chicken at 7am and 5pm.
We all loved Elliot, but knew that in time she would need other wild ducks. Charlie said after she learned to fly well enough we'd take her down to the duck ponds near the river down town and give her back to her the wild.
Her “flight lessons” began with Azara throwing her up into the air from the trampoline, or Azara and her friends chasing her till she flew (to my chagrin). A few weeks later she really started flying short distances across the garden. Then Charlie saw her fly all the way across the meadow. But we still hesitated to let her go, we were so attached to her.
Then one beautiful brisk, clear evening, I went out to harvest vegetables for dinner. Azara had been playing out at the pond, as usual, with Elliot eating water bugs and all the chickens running around the landscape. Azara and Elliot came over to me, and we stood in front of the garden, as the sun was going down, the beautiful vista of mountains and forest in full view. Azara fed Elliot and we were just standing there looking at her, admiring her pretty feathers and Azara was telling her how much she loved her, and what a good duck she was. All the terms of endearment a Mother says to her child......
When all of a sudden, Elliot bent down on her haunches, and took off in flight, up over the garden, and out into the horizon…… We watched, breathless, as she flew away, and kept flying, off into the distance. We looked at each other, stunned, and Azara burst into big tears streaming down her cheeks. I hugged her close. She sobbed, "My baby, my baby, oh, I love my Elliot, she's gone......she was saying goodbye to me Mom, I know it, she wanted to leave with me here, so she could say goodbye...... I love you Elliot, Goodbye.....
Afterwards, we reflected on the fact that if Elliot would have flown away when we were not there, we would have worried about her, and been fearful that perhaps she had been taken by a raccoon, or some other notion.
Thanks for that, Elliot.
For several days after she left, I was intent on looking for her in our garden, as soon as we arrived home in the afternoon, but Azara thought I was silly, as she was certain that Elliot was gone. "She may come back some day, with a mate and about 4 baby ducklings," said Azara, assuring me.
We did pray for Elliot though, at night before bed, to send her blessings that she find her way safely. Goodbye Dear Elliot the Duck.
Let us know if you happen to see any gimpish Mama Mallard Ducks out there. You may try feeding her some wild rice and chicken.....