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Call Duck Behaviour

My first pair of Calls were obtained when Pam Price of Knighton presented me with a pair of whites to house with some three or four month old black Swans I'd purchased. Swans are noted for being pugnacious towards other species and Pam thought, and events proved her right, that if my Swans were introduced to other livestock especially smaller species at that early age, they'd be more tolerant in adult life. These Calls grew on me because not only were they cute looking but their behaviour fascinating.

Over the years, as my Calls increased in number, I've overheard on more than one occasion passers by say "listen to that lot laughing!" Indeed a group of Calls do sound as if they are laughing, "Ha! Ha! Ha!" rapidly when heard from a distance. At shows it's not unknown for calls to be labelled those "noisy beggars" by the uninitiated but once you have started keeping them they don't seem half as noisy somehow.

Selection of pieds on their breeding pond

The devoted couple - each spring!
In comparison to large ducks, call females win hands down in the decibel stakes and they also make use of a wider vocal range. Drakes on the other hand, have similar voices to their large counterparts. Just as large ducks do, a call female will quack for instance to her ducklings or if she has strayed and temporarily lost sight of her mate but if danger threatens she will utter for a lengthy time a louder slower and more strident alarm call which can alert even other species for my geese often scurry onto the water in response. It's the rapid calling, "I’m lost!" or "where are you?" trait that wildfowlers of yesteryear would have utilised in decoying wild duck into the range of their guns.
Whilst a large duck will also quack away to her mate, madam call duck though will chat twenty to the dozen rate when she meets up with hers after a short absence or when she gets excitable at locking up time. However it's when she comes home having spent a day or two away at a show that she excels herself.
The whole proceedings have to be told in two minutes flat even if she is hoarse having quacked the whole time she was away. Her poor mate, as many a husband will know when his wife gets going, only manages a get a word in edgeways by saying "yes! yes! yes!" over and over again. (If you don't believe me have a listen!)

When it comes to the mating game, if her husband hasn't already done so, this little madam is not adverse to initiating the proceedings by bobbing her head up and down thereby getting the drake to reciprocate. This lasts a while before she stretches her neck out and flattens her back thus enticing her mate to mount and mate her. Sometimes though, all is fair in love and war and there can be a dramatic behavioural change as in this story of a happy threesome I once had – an apricot female, a blue fawn male and a blue silver male.

Snooze time in the orchard
All three lived for years on the small lake with the black swans and had the freedom to roam at will. Wherever one went the other two would follow. Now, although this apricot female had two husbands they never over mated their communal wife for her feathers were always pristine. However, each year, within a day or two of when she'd take herself off to incubate her eggs, the two drakes would go berserk. They would fly into pens where other calls were housed and rape anything they could lay their beaks on fighting off any offended drakes that dared to protest. To retrieve peace and to give time for their libido to subside, the offending rapists had to be banished annually to a sin bin by being incarcerated in an ark for a while. Incidentally, one wet winter these three managed to turn half an acre of grassland into a quagmire. When such conditions prevail calls turn into mini JCB's and mud mixers, proudly boasting their achievements by going around with smug looks and muddy tide marks right up to their eyes.
To conclude, I'd like to relate what befell the threesome. The apricot female and the blue silver drake mysteriously disappeared earlier this year. Whether a four legged or two legged fox got them or they flew out onto the river, I don't know there being no trace. However the remaining blue fawn drake proved he would not have been out of place living in the 1960's. Getting fed up of being alone he negotiated two fields, trounced a couple of drakes in a pen down there and went in for a spot of wife swapping. He's now got two he can justifiably quack, "I'm the king of the swingers, oh, the duck pond VIP!" and what's more, as a matter of interest – his was the beak up the swans derriere!
Alan Davies


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