By Nicole Durand
I was an au pair at the time when, one afternoon, I arrived at the family’s home with their middle child Kitty. Their dog was eagerly scratching to get out and, as I opened the gate, he bolted; in a flash, he found a gaggle of tiny goslings hiding in the bushes. One by one he snatched them up and killed them. Kitty and I desperately tried to stop him but he was super fast. Eventually, we managed to get him back behind the gate… but it was too late. Five goslings lay dead at our feet.
Then we heard a faint “tweet-tweet”! We hurried to try and catch the last remaining little fluff ball and cornered him in the flowerbed, but he dashed straight through my legs and right under the gate – and straight into the dog’s mouth. Desperate, I latched onto his mouth and pried it open like the Jaws of Life. I feared it was too late. The little one’s head was drooping like the others had just before they died… I was heartbroken. Then, Kitty exclaimed that he would be fine – she’d make sure of it. I figured “why not?” and let her keep him for the night, safely ensconced in an old hamster cage, although I was sure he wouldn’t make it.
The next morning I arrived at work – lo and behold, the little bugger
was running around his hamster cage, full of life. Kitty’s mom suggested I take him to the SPCA, but on arrival they said they’d have to put him to sleep, as Egyptian Geese are an invasive species. I looked at the poor, defenceless ball of fluff and knew I couldn’t let that happen. So, he came home with me...
It was a lot of trial and error at first; Googling and YouTubing how to raise geese. We found that “Growing Meal” was the best solution when dissolved in water. And lettuce – flip! How he loved lettuce – and snails and earthworms. I have yet to see another snail dare creep back into these gardens! We kept an electric “water bottle” in his little pen at all times to simulate the heat from his mother.
Although we worried about our cats, they didn’t seem to mind – at least not at first. But when he got older he ruled the roost and had them running around with their tails between their legs! Ducky grew quite close to Noah, our smaller-than-average cat, who gets bullied by the bigger cats in our complex. Once, I actually witnessed Ducky break up a huge cat fight between Noah and his rival; he even chased the enemy across the street! One evening, a rival male goose flew in and dive-bombed Ducky, attacking him while we were on our daily walk to the field. Noah shot out of nowhere and chased the big goose away.
It was a very unique relationship. If any new people or animals came onto “his” property or near me, Ducky would charge unless I “introduced” him to them – and then he’d greet them with great enthusiasm.
I’ll never forget our greeting call: with wings spread out, head tilted back, and at the top of his lungs as if to say, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY, YOU’RE BAAAAAAACK!!!” He’d often follow my car when I left and I always worried he’d try to fly after me, but thankfully he didn’t.
Teaching him to fly was challenging. With a big blanket wrapped around my shoulders as make-shift wings, I would run up and down the small stretch of grass in front of our flat, calling him. He just ran at first and then flapped his wings a bit. I got quite fit during all these flying lessons! And then, one day, he took off, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He flew right over my head and looked down, calling as if to say, “How do you land this thing?!” He landed not so gracefully and then ran back to me with an expression of “Did you see, Mommy? Did you see that? I flew!”. It was a bittersweet moment; I knew that he’d soon fly off for good.
And then, Ducky got really ill. I rushed him to Peninsula Vet in Plumstead (they are fantastic!). The vet said he’d likely not make it – he had heavy metal poisoning, which was affecting his liver/kidneys. But I was determined and visited him every day with a three-course meal of his favourites and took him outside for some fresh air. He spent two whole weeks there but, eventually, the vet said we could take him home. When we opened the cage, he came bolting out like a bat out of hell. He was so happy to be home – especially to have a bath after two weeks!
Ducky recovered but then he was attacked by a dog (for the second time in his life). I came home one day and one of the garden guys ran up to me and said: “There’s something wrong with Ducky! He’s in the pool but he’s not moving well.” (The garden guys all knew Ducky and loved him; they spent hours “chatting” to him.) I could immediately see that something was very wrong. He paddled up to me, jumped right out and let me scoop him up. Ordinarily, he wasn't fond of being touched but he seemed to know I was there to help. Another trip to the vet and, with some antibiotics and lots of rest, he recovered beautifully.
Darling Ducky flies the nest
Lying on our picnic blanket one lazy, sunny afternoon, a gorgeous female goose came swooping in and landed on the roof above us. Ducky shot up and stared at her like a lovesick puppy. She called to him – and he ran for his bath; he spent a good ten minutes sprucing himself up and checking that all his feathers were in order before presenting himself to her. At first they were wary of each other. I left them for a while and returned a few hours later to find them sharing a meal (his very unattractive porridge).
Over the next few days he followed her everywhere around the complex… and soon enough they literally flew off into the sunset. I said a little prayer that evening that she would teach him everything about the wild that I couldn’t.
What I learnt from Ducky is that birds are capable of a lot more than we think. Ducky really was like a child and best friend to me. I’ll always cherish our precious time we had together and pray that he is safe wherever he is. I really hope that one day they’ll return to raise their own babies.
Video icon/link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGHONv3xgf4