Back to Nature (Published on - Jan. 5, 2005)
A lesson learned from babies in the periwinkles
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Singing in the rain: This Muscovy duck is not only comfortable in a residential backyard, it seems to find great joy in the shower a hose provides.
Who can resist the sound of begging baby quacks or the site of little baby duckling eyes?

It started out innocent enough. One day when we arrived home from work we were greeted by a mom and her two little ducklings. The mother Muscovy followed me right up to my front door with two tiny, downy babies gently quaking in tow. Well, I did have that half eaten seven-grain bagel in my purse. What’s one little snack to a hungry mom and two hungry babies on a cold day? What harm could that be, I asked myself?

That question began me on my slippery slope. From that moment on mom made little or no effort to feed her children except to forage our front lawn. She slept on my front door step awaiting my entrance and exit. As friends dropped by over the next couple of weeks they couldn’t resist bringing a little treat for the mother duck and her babies that had adopted us.

We made a decision not to “feed” the ducklings but would permit an occasional snack if it was placed at the corner of the property.


One cold morning we opened the door to find two little ducklings barely feathered with no mother. At first we were concerned that mom had been injured. Later that day we saw her a half a block away in a not-so-delicate position with a large male. She never returned.

We were left in care of two motherless hungry ducklings. During the day the babies foraged upon the lawn. Following the lead of older ducks they eventually began wandering farther afield. In spite of this, every morning and evening the two waifs waited, regardless of the weather, huddled in the cold, under the Jeep against the rain or pressed against the front door in one duckling ball for their surrogate parents, us. We realized very quickly they had imprinted upon us. Our research began.

The Muscovy is originally from Central and South America, Mexico to North Argentina where they nest in large tree cavities. It is accepted that they originated in Brazil. There is evidence that these birds may have a more ancient history back to the pre-Inca period in Peru. There are reports that Columbus made notes during the 1400s that these ducks were being kept in captivity by the Brazilian Indians.

In the 16th century some of these ducks were transplanted to Europe by the Spaniards and Portuguese where they were domesticated and raised as a source of meat and eggs. The Muscovy is the most popular meat producing duck in Queensland, Australia. Muscovy males and females mature at one year of age.

Raised domestically they thrive on any good “quality pelleted ration, especially if it’s supplemented by a little whole grain, such as wheat. They seem to relish an occasional feeding of greens, such as lettuce and will readily take a special treat of dog meal or sea duck feed thrown on the water. Treats are a good way to keep them tame, so you can easily check their condition.” (Northwest Muscovy Farm,

According to the Oklahoma State University, Muscovy hens can set three times a year, and the egg clutches can vary from 8 to 21 eggs. The eggs are incubated for 35 days.

“Muscovy ducks feed on the roots, stems, leaves, and seeds of aquatic and terrestrial plants, including agricultural crops. They also eat small fishes, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, millipedes, and termites.” (Ducks Unlimited)

The Muscovy isn’t a Floridian native, but the Muscovy has become Florida’s most common domestic duck. Many are escapees from domestication that have become semi-wild. Unlike many domesticated varieties of foul, Muscovy can fly. According to the University of Florida, overpopulation of these ducks has become a health problem and nuisance. UF recommends ceasing all feeding programs as a method to control the population of Muscovy.

As time passes we’ll gradually decrease the duckling’s ration of pellets but for now we’ll not abandon our downy protégés or chase them out of the periwinkles. Even seasoned naturalists can be tempted by cute, little, begging faces but we’ve learned our lesson.

We shouldn’t have interfered with Mother Nature. Let nature take its course. Allow parents to parent, offspring to flourish and grow. Know when to ask for help but also learn when to trust yourself and your own instincts. Know when to lend a hand but know when to let go and when it’s best not to interfere. No one wins unless we let things be as they are meant to be, back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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