From Tad Hills’s Duck and Goose to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, ducks have been the star of many a beloved (and soon to be beloved) picture book.

More than half the picture book manuscripts I’ve written star ducks, and I’m the proud owner of duck pajama pants and other duck paraphernalia. Okay fine, I’ll just say it – I kinda love ducks.

So, I’m super excited to share with you an interview with Tiffany, who rehabilitates injured ducks (how cool is that?) and other fowl, feathery friends.

Welcome to the blog, Tiff! How did you get involved in duck rehabilitation, and what are the most common injuries you see in domesticated ducks?
As soon as I bought a house I got my first pet duck, Mr Flapper. He is responsible for my extra-curricular activities in duck rescue and rehabilitation.

The most common injuries I see are bumblefoot (foot sores) and leg problems, hardware disease (young ducks like to eat shiny things and ingest metal), injuries from dog or raccoon attacks and infections.

After they’ve been nursed back to health, how do you find them homes?
I use my blog to network with people and help find good, safe pet homes for the rescues once they’re healthy.

How many ducks are your own pets, and how many do you have staying with you temporarily? (Names, please! Also, how do their personalities differ?)
The list of permanent and temporary family changes constantly, but here are a few highlights…

O’Malley Peepers is a Muscovy drake duck. He came to us as a baby after being found in a park in Gig Harbor, WA. O’Malley is now 6 ½ years old. He is a lover and a biter. He loves to cuddle and sit on my lap, but if I put him down or try to walk away, he will bite.

Petunia Peach and Ramona are both Muscovy hen ducks. Both came from rescue organizations. Petunia is a sweet, docile girl and Ramona has a wild streak. She is known as “The Ramona Monster” since she chases and bites chickens who get in her way.

Lester Leroy is a rescued duck who has been with us for a year now. He was severely crippled and sent to a vet for euthanasia before getting a last chance with us. Now he can walk and get around really well. He is a great host for other handicapped ducks who come in for rehabilitation.

How can you tell the difference between a domesticated duck and a wild duck?
Wild ducks are light enough to fly well and can migrate to good food sources and warmer climates. Domestic ducks are bred to be larger and can have difficulty flying. Many parks have populations of dumped domestic ducks, but they are not good for the wild populations and they are prone to health problems and in danger of attack from dogs or predators that wild ducks would be able to avoid by flying away. Any white ducks or light brown ducks are dumped domestic ducks. All black ducks are likely domestic as well, as well as extra-large mallard-looking ducks. Those are dumped domestic Rouen ducks. Many people don’t know that it is illegal to raise and release ducks at parks. It is considered pet abandonment and you can face animal cruelty charges, depending on the area.

How do you play with a pet duck? If you meet one, is there any protocol you should follow? (Like, you’re supposed to let a dog sniff you first… but ducks don’t “sniff,” right?)
This is a great question. Ducks are a prey species. They have very few defenses. They fear predators from above like hawks and eagles. They are also hyper-aware and very sensitive to sound and motion. It is important to approach a duck crouched down and quietly. It’s best to let them approach you, and it can take many days or weeks to build trust. Never chase a duck and never taunt them. They do not understand joking behavior and will not trust you. Friendly ducks sometimes like their beaks held gently. I think it reminds them of tucking their beak under a wing. They don’t like to be pet like dogs much, but some will take a light head scratch or beak rub.

When my cat Simon first met Flapper, he sniffed his beak. Flapper sat very still until Simon’s nose was close and then CLAMPED DOWN on his nose and TWISTED his beak back and forth. That was the last duck Simon ever sniffed.

What do you feed a pet duck, and how does that differ from what they eat in the wild?
My ducks eat a crumbled pelleted duck food called Nutrena Waterfowl Maintenance. The best pet duck food is made by Mazuri, but it’s hard to get in the West. Wild ducks forage for grasses, roots and bugs and can find all of their nutrients in the natural environment. Domestic ducks need support from humans just like pet dogs or cats do. My ducks also get to forage on grass and eat romaine lettuce, tomatoes, grapes, peas, corn and other seasonal snacks.

A Friend Feeds The Flock

It is best NOT to feed ducks at parks, as it causes overpopulation and water pollution. Also, bread is very bad for ducks. It is basically junk food and will prevent them from finding nutrients they really need to grow and thrive.

Do you use duck diapers? (And if so, how in the heck do you diaper a duck?)
I have used duck diapers a few times for special cases or ducklings who spend a lot of time in the house. They are easy to use if you start when a duck is young, but even then, some ducks will be too stressed out by them. Ducks generally do not like having anything binding their feathers. And I have found, even in the case of a duck who had never seen another duck, that in as little as a week’s time, ducks will prefer to go outside and live with other ducks over spending time with humans in a house. They are flock animals and do best with their own species.

How noisy is it at your house? Are ducks more or less talkative than the average person?
Ducks are great conversationalists. They have complex vocalizations and different sounds that mean different things. They also learn to listen to other birds’ calls and can tell when the crows are sounding a predator alarm. I take special care to only keep quiet ducks as permanent residents, because I have close neighbors. Muscovy ducks are very quiet and male mallard-descended ducks are quiet as well. Female ducks (except for muscovies) are generally too loud for my house. So most of the time, my yard is pretty quiet.

Where would one get a domesticated duck?
Ducks can be found at most farm feed stores in the spring. Responsible stores won’t sell you just one duckling though, because they really don’t do well alone. Ducks like to be with other ducks.

What should people know before deciding to bring home a duck as a pet?
After years of experience and having made many mistakes myself, I really don’t recommend ducks to most people. There is a book called Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte where he describes them as “more maintenance than the space shuttle.” I’ve always remembered that quote because it could not be more true. Ducks are so vulnerable to predators that it is very difficult to keep them safe. And some ducks still act like dinosaurs much of the time, so different personalities will fight no matter you do. Muscovy drakes can be especially dangerous, so I really recommend against them most of all. They end up dumped or at rescues way too often, and they are extremely hard to place in homes.

If someone is still enamored by ducks and set on bringing a few home, I’d say the most important point is to build a very secure predator-proof pen (all sides, top and bottom covered with hardware cloth wiring is best) with good drainage. I can’t stress this enough. Also know that ducks need care twice a day every day without fail, and it can be much more difficult to find a duck-sitter than a dog-sitter when you want to take a vacation. The most annoying side effects of having ducks are that their food can attract mice and rats (or snakes, depending on where you live) and their poop can attract flies. So maintaining their living area becomes really crucial.

I don’t mean to make ducks sound like terrible pets. They really are a joy. But people should know what they’re getting into so they don’t tire of ducks after just a season. Ducks can live anywhere from 5-years to 20-years on average, depending on the species. I have known a Pekin female duck to live 14 years and a Muscovy drake to live 24 years. They are a much longer-term commitment than many people realize.

Flapper was clearly a special pet for you. What duck in literature or pop culture would you say his personality was closest to?
Mr Flapper Duck was an original. I can’t think of a duck in literature like him. He was full of life and fun, a little bit of mischief and just an overall good guy.

He had more personality than any pet I’ve ever had, and more than any other duck. He was genuinely sweet and lovable, and he felt safe with me. He was a playful character and liked to run and swim and dive and splash. And he loved treats. I looked forward to every day with Flapper from the moment he arrived until he passed away from complications related to old age. I’ve never known any pet or person personally or in literature like him. He was just a special gift.

What were your favorite duck picture books as a child, and are there any you particularly enjoy now?
The quintessential children’s duck picture book is Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. I also like The Little Duck, part of the Pictureback series originally published in 1976 by Random House. I had that one as a child myself and loved it. Duck for President is more recent and did quite well.

Besides their innate awesomeness, why do you think ducks are so popular in children’s literature in particular and/or pop culture in general?
Ducks are very vulnerable. I think people relate to their vulnerability. Yet in spite of their vulnerability, they are also strong and positive, and approach every step with a good attitude. Ducks are go-getters, but because they are vulnerable, they can find themselves in sticky situations. That’s a great set up for many story lines.

Thanks, Tiff! I’ve always thought about owning a duck, but I guess I’ll wait until I have 20 years with no vacation plans… For my writer readers, I hope this helps add some authenticity to your duck characters!

Tiffany works as a Creative Director at an ed-tech company in Bellevue, WA. She has been rescuing and rehabilitating ducks and other fowl friends in her spare time for nearly 8-years. You can find her flock online at Ducks and Clucks or on Facebook. Mr Flapper Duck has passed on, but his life blog remains online at www.mrflapper.com. Here are a few links to some of her favorite episodes from the blogs: Chewy’s Girlfriend Stuffy; New Ducks on the Block; Flapper Plays Lotto; JAWS!

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