Nobody Likes a Mean Duck

Nobody Likes a Mean Duck

In my early days in Bali I kept Indian Runner ducks, the charming but singularly brainless species found in Bali’s rice fields. It was my first experience keeping poultry and I soon learned that it was a fine balance between entertainment and inconvenience. The ducks were too stupid to procreate. They attempted to mate with other species, laid eggs but never figured out how to hatch them and exhibited other behaviours not likely to increase the duck population. These adventures are chronicled in the Bali Advertiser online archive for 2001 in Passion and Tragedy in the Duck Pond in case you are tempted down this path.

Then I moved to a piece of land on a steep, heavily jungled ravine. I soon learned that my new home was Predator Central. Large pythons, metre-long monitor lizards and luwak/musang were frequent visitors with a keen interest in my poultry. I lost countless laying hens, bantams, Indian Runner Ducks and a couple of quail over the years.

Back in July Greg gifted me with three adolescent Muscovy ducks. The Muscovy grows to be a big bird, hopefully big enough to talk back to the wildlife. Mature drakes can achieve seven kilograms and females half of that. Not often seen in Bali, these large terrestrial ducks with warty red faces were originally from Central America but were brought to Bali along with many other food plants and animals over the centuries.

Even at their tender age the new ducks struggled strongly as I lifted them out of their travelling basket. For the first few months they chugged busily around the garden without demonstrating a great deal of personality. Gradually it became evident that one of them was growing much larger than the others and we deduced that this was a male. I called him Randy, in anticipation of the dynasty I hoped he would be founding. The girls were Ruby and Roberta. Ruby was sleek and flirty, a very pretty duck as Muscovies go (if you can overlook the interesting red warts on their faces). Roberta was shy and reserved. Although the ducks were very co-dependent and always hung out together, she kept a little apart.

As the months went by the ducks’ feathers took on a lovely iridescent black lustre, contrasted by white markings on their wings and breasts. They cruised the garden like stately galleons, their large bodies surging along gracefully as they consumed, one by one, all my best bedding plants. They cavorted in the fishpond and devoured the pond plants and sometimes ventured into the front yard to leave their mark in the small pond there too.

Randy grew ever larger and became, at less than six months of age, a most impressive duck. His hormones began to kick in about this time and he suddenly noticed that Ruby was a very attractive female of the species. He took to following her around the yard, more and more urgently, without quite knowing what to do when he caught up with her.

Most birds procreate with a gentle cloacal kiss (look it up). Ducks are almost unique in the bird world in being endowed with sizeable genitalia; of almost 10,000 species of birds only ducks, geese, swans, ostriches, emus and cassowaries are thus equipped. The spiral penis of a Muscovy drake can measure 20 cm. Consider how that compares with most humans. Biologically the unique long, spiral penis makes sense as it prevents any other species of duck from breeding with Muscovy hens, but the choreography and cooperative spirit necessary for successful procreation are considerable.

I happened to be present on the day Randy figured out what went where. He and Ruby were swimming in the pond, with Roberta watching from the sidelines as usual. Suddenly Randy climbed on top of Ruby, who was a third his size, and pushed her almost completely under water. It took quite a while to sort things out and they both had to come up for air a few times. By the end of the encounter poor Ruby was so weak I had to help her out of the pond with a net. She lurched in circles on the grass for a while streaming water, feathers every which way and her eyes rolling around in her head. It had not been a romantic interlude.

But a few days later she laid her first egg. We built a little hut from bedeg inside their predator-proof pen and she began to lay an egg every day in the straw. I anticipated fuzzy ducklings and went off to Canada for two weeks.

On my return, the situation had clearly changed. I noticed that Roberta had had a growth spurt and was suddenly almost the size of Randy. Ruby was sitting a clutch of 8 eggs and was no longer sexually available. Randy showed no interest in the other duck, but when Ruby took a break from brooding one day and wandered toward the pond, Roberta made a clumsy attempt to mount her. Aha! Roberta was, in fact, Roberto!

Randy witnessed this liberty from across the garden and charged at Roberto with his big wings outspread, hissing loudly. He chased the poor guy into the pen and cornered him there, pecking and hissing while poor Roberto tried to make himself invisible in the straw.

It was soon clear that Randy’s hormones were raging out of control. He made Roberto’s life a nightmare and then turned his wrath toward Kalypso, my half-blind 15 year old dog. He took a dislike to her and began to chase her aggressively around the garden, snapping at her heels. On one occasion she retreated to the patio and he followed her right into the house. This was too much. I stepped between them and raised my arms but, nothing daunted, Randy spread his metre-wide wings and hissed at me threateningly.

Within a couple of days my tranquil home and garden had become a battle zone. Both dogs were nervous and snappy, I was apprehensive and Roberto was miserable. Randy had become a bully and a thug. There was only one solution.

That is when I discovered, after 13 years of working together, that my Wayan Manis was too tender-hearted to dispatch a chicken, much less a large and angry duck. Pak Pasak, the gardener, had no such qualms. The next morning he strolled to a remote corner of the yard with a sharp knife under one arm and Randy under the other. Half an hour later, dressing out at an impressive 2.5 kilograms, the offender was in the freezer awaiting a special occasion.

Nobody likes a mean duck, Randy.

It took the dogs and ducks a day or two to realize that the tyrant was no longer part of the community. Ruby and Roberto began to hang out tentatively together. But she was spending less time on the nest and one morning I noticed eggshells in the enclosure. Soon Ruby had eaten most of the eggs she’d been sitting on. Wayan Manis and I agreed that her maternal instincts seemed to be out of calibration, which did not bode well for future generations.

Perhaps because of his slow start, Roberto has never really grasped the mechanics of procreation. He chases Ruby around and around the garden with great determination. When he catches her he stands on her head, or on her back facing the tail. He seems to be wondering why nothing is happening. So does Ruby. My fantasies of baby ducks are on hold indefinitely.

But life has returned to normal. Kalypso one again dozes undisturbed at her post overlooking the pond. Every once in a while I’ll think of how peaceful the garden is and how pretty the ducks look among the remaining plants. Then I go back to researching a nice recipe for roast duck.

Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available from :
– Ganesha Books in Ubud, Sanur andSeminyak
– Amazon downloadable for Kindle

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