We started our duck and quail egg program three years ago.
Happy birds, lots of pasture, eat, be healthy, be free. Kind of.
For our quail we did create a natural pasture habitat, we knew they would either fly away or be eaten within days without protection, they are pretty much the bottom of the food chain type of bird. We made their structure with hardware cloth and greenhouse siding, so our little fairy birds could live on the ground in all elements but also have a passive greenhouse space free of wind, especially in the winter months.
It isn’t uncommon to see various types of hawks and owls perched on top of their structure. Kind of like a buffet for the eyes.
But quail are fairly sensitive, and when a raptor is looking down at them, even if they have structures to hide under, it throws their laying off, and our egg production goes down for about a week. So I no longer take photos of the hawks and owls when they land, I ask them to move along, pretty much immediately.
Our ducks, well this is a different story. Over the past three years, we have consistently lost about 46 eggs in one week, and at least two full clutches that were close to hatching, totaling a potential 32 ducklings. While our ducks are pastured during the day, they sleep in the greenhouse, better known as Fort Duckworth, at night.
We have gone through so many re-imaginings of this structure, and still a new problem with predatory birds each year.
Hawks and owls leave our ladies alone, they are super large ducks, more like mini geese.
We keep our Ladies in the greenhouse until 9am or so, they are usually done laying by then, and it makes finding eggs much easier. If we let them out early, I am on an Easter Egg Hunt around a one acre pasture.
We have used 2″x4″ fencing around the sides.
Then chicken wire on top of that.
Then plastic in the winter and spring.
Then bird netting over the flight pen area.
Then CD’s hanging like a disco-hall to scare the birds away.
And yet these predatory birds seem to be able to spot an egg through a greenhouse, and into the Quack Shack, and under the straw, with what sense I don’t know, and find the eggs.
The sweetest looking bird, that swoops in, pecks holes in every egg , samples each one and leaves. The next day they show up with 50 of their closest friends and sit in the trees waiting for me to walk away, for another sampling session.
Much like the mourning dove, sweet looking, but an egg terror, and slightly more aggressive.
Impressive at first sight, cunning, wickedly conniving, and the best riddle solvers of all. They know my morning schedule, where I drink my coffee, what time I start filling the duck pools, when my phone rings. They are devastating to our duck egg production. I have watched them dive through the flight netting just to get into the greenhouse. They have eaten down whole eggs in less than a minute, and have eaten an entire clutch of ducklings in the shell four days from hatching.
One will scope out the situation, and then twenty others show up and they seem to hunt together with very intricate instructions from the front man. Each one with their own job.
These birds are gorgeous at first glance. Starlings don’t come in one or fifty at a time, they come in thousands and its called a murmuration. It is a hunting style that at a distance looks like a school of fish in the sky, dancing kind of, to distract and confuse their prey. These tend to be our late summer early fall birds, that will swoop into the greenhouse, literally fill the entire space looking for food, duck feed, eggs, whatever, destroy everything with an immense amount of poop, as in inches thick within minutes, and then fly away. They will repeat that unless everything is put away with no access to food, eggs, or water. Which means we either lock our ducks up, or lock them out without food or water. Either way, it is the only way to get starlings to move on, remove the resource completely.
After spending two full days cleaning out starling poop, we have yet another reimagining of this space – an inside barrier with doors and chicken wire, to the Quack Shack. So a room inside of our greenhouse, that as of today I will say is super secure, Fort Duckworth is now operating more like Fort Leavenworth.
Our Ladies sleep in this space at night and then are out after they lay their eggs. We can keep those doors shut if we don’t collect the eggs right away, or if we have broody hens, or if we have new ducklings. So, here we go.
While I appreciate all living things, I can tell you that these birds no longer hold a soft place in my heart. I am trying to live with them, and still have a business, and keep my animals safe and healthy. It is a balance, and if this year we only loose a few eggs, or no eggs, I will consider our efforts a success and keep moving forward.
But just to be clear, if push comes to shove, my quail and ducks are my animals, I have promised them a good life, a healthy life, and as natural as possible, I am not here to sacrifice them or their efforts. They will come first for sure, that is my promise to them.