Nov 10, 2015

Feather Issues and Autumn Weather

A couple of the ducks have feather issues. One is fairly standard, she is molting. That process of losing older feathers and growing new ones takes some time, and I think that it leaves the ducks' skin rather tender. It takes several weeks for the whole change to take place. First, larger feathers come off, especially those on the wings. Then tail feathers go. Then feathers on the rest of the body. The pen begins to look like someone popped a feather pillow. The duck begins to look a little bedraggled, if not kinda crazy. During what I call high molt, when the old feathers are mostly out but the new ones haven't started in very far, I pay attention to the weather more closely than usual. Because at this point, there are not as many feathers on her, and the ones that are there are loose and not very water-repellant nor are they providing much insulation.

This time of year, the temperature can start dropping any time of day, and a cloudy day may suddenly become rainy. This combination of wet and cold can stress the duck, to the point of developing hypothermia or even pneumonia, from what I have read. I am happy to report we have not experienced either so far.

It may sound silly, but if the weather looks like it would stress any of the ducks, we take cover. As long as the shelter is large enough to accommodate everyone, and there is enough fresh water and food, the ducks seem quite content coming in a little early, or going out a little late. A big bonus is having something to do. I confess, I am not the master of indoor duck entertainment. Mine mostly make their own.

Right now, in fact, I am sitting next to the night pen. Zwei, Fünf and Romy are napping. Zehn, Sechs and Acht (our molting girl) are noodling around in the bedding, looking for snacks. Sometimes they'll find a pea they missed earlier, or a little spilled food or a dried mealworm. Sieben is carefully preening, keeping her feathers in nice condition. Einz is also poking around in the bedding, chatting to Rowena. Rowena is just walking around the pen, watching what the others are doing, preening a little, wagging her tail, and then nibbling in the food bowl. And so it is with the rest of the flock.

Sieben just came over to observe what I am doing. She's very attentive to me. She may be hoping for treats, I don't know.

One of the other ducks was recently adopted and had some nutritional imbalances, so her feathers were not in great shape when she arrived. They were dry, and a little rough looking. In the weeks since she arrived, she has had opportunity to splash in clean water and preen, she's had a balanced diet, lots of fresh air and sunshine, and she gets along quite well with the rest of the flock. Her feathers are noticeably improved already - but still not very waterproof, and so cold rainy days she doesn't stay out long.

Fünf and Sieben are now napping near me, bills tucked under wings, one leg pulled up into the feathers of their tummies. I enjoy watching a duck fall asleep. Their eyelids are below their eyes. That way even if their eyes are open just a tiny bit, they can see above them. This is important for prey animals like ducks.

So, with sleepy, and tail-wagging, happily-noodling ducks in for the night where it is relatively warm and certainly dry, I'll sign off.