Thursday, February 13, 2014

History of Hester

I moved to this RV park on Lake Conroe Tx on Sept. 25, 2013. That is also the birthday of my dad (he would have been 105 yrs old!) and my granddaughter, Avery. Anyway, I started spending a lot of my time sitting outside by the lake just sitting and enjoying all the nature and water around me. I occasionally fished but never caught anything. I tell people that I just practice casting more than I really fish - I don't know what I would do if I actually caught anything. So I was outside one day when I saw a small young looking female mallard duck walk from the beginning of the bulkhead that is closest to the street, all along the edge of the bulkhead and follow it to the very end , around the point, and then down to the boat ramp. She walked down the boat ramp, got in the water and swam away. She had passed by where I was sitting without taking any notice of me.  The lake at this time was very low - there was a small area of dry land all the way around the bulkhead except where the boat ramp was.
I saw this same little duck several more times in the days after. I began to notice her interactions with the other ducks or should I say the lack of interaction. The other ducks would not let her in their "circle". If they were in the water, one of the ducks would chase her off; if they were sunning on the dock, they wouldn't let her up there with them. The name Hester came from my daughter Deborah. She suggested it from the book " The Scarlet Letter". At first I wanted to be friendly with all the ducks so I would throw them plain old white bread when they swam by. I learned my lesson rather quickly - I didn't like how they would fight over it and what would begin from feeding a small group of maybe five or six ducks would quickly escalate to as many as thirty! They would become very aggressive fighting with each other - there would be a lot of feathers in the water when things would finally settle down.  Since this one duck was never allowed in these gatherings, I would make it a point to give her some bread whenever I saw her. Sometimes she would be out in the water but more and more she would come over to the dry strip of land below where I was sitting.  I looked on the internet and researched what wild ducks ate - found out they eat almost anything but that white bread that most people throw to ducks was considered " junk food", I decided to try Cheerios as a less than evil alternative. She loved them. I also experimented with other foods - apples, grapes, bananas, lettuce, cabbage, just about anything that I was eating. She did eat them in small quantities but seemed to still prefer the Cheerios. The grapes had to be cut at least in half so I would eat part of it and give her the other part. This only lasted for a few days though. She would not eat them anymore and by this time I was feeding her while she was on the land and I wanted her to continue coming up to me so I switched back to the cereal. I gradually put the food closer and closer to my chair where I was sitting. This process took several weeks. Eventually I was feeding her from my hand. At first I would put several Cheerios in my hand and hold it out to her. She would peck at my hand and the Cheerios would all drop to the ground. It took a little more than a week before I gained enough of her trust to hold each one out and have her eat it. During this entire process I always talked very softly and soothingly to her - saying "Hester" while I held out the cheerio and then telling her how pretty and brave she was. She learned to pair her name and my voice with the food. An example of basic behavioral psychology. I'm still not sure who trained who! Lol. I learned to make sure I had cheerios or whole bread on hand! She was also coming over to me by flying from a dock that was on the other side of the boat ramp or she would walk along the bulkhead on the other side of the boat ramp and then fly over.
 She also would spend a good amount of her time with me. After she ate she would waddle over to the point of land and preen herself, bring one leg up, tuck her little head under her wing and take a nap. I learned from my research that ducks can sleep and be aware of what's going on around them at the same time. Apparently each eye is controlled by a different hemisphere of the brain. When she would wake up she would stretch her little legs, preen herself some more and jump in the water and swim away. I really began to be curious about her behaviors. I didn't want other ducks coming around to beg food so whenever they did I would stand up to shoe them away. Occasionally one would try to fly up and on those occasions all I had to do was stand up and they would quickly redirect their flight plan. During the times that this would happen, Hester would quickly waddle to her point but not fly away. I'm not sure if Hester picked up on my preference for not having other ducks or if it was a coincidence that she didn't want them around either but I started noticing that when other ducks would swim close she would walk along the bulkhead making a clacking sound while jutting her head to the side. It seemed that this was a signal to them that they were not welcome! I have since seen this behavior repeated over and over again and by other female ducks. The males do not do this. Anyway, there was another trick she did when she didn't want others around. One time I wanted to see what would happen if I did let another duck come up. A male and female duck were swimming by and the female decided she wanted what Hester had. Hester had already eaten and was standing on the bulkhead preening. The female flew up within about 4 ft of where Hester was. Hester immediately stood on one leg and tucked her head under her wing like she was napping. The other female walked over to Hester and stood there along side of her. After waiting a minute or two the female jumped back into the water and they swam away. As soon as the other female left, Hester came out of hiding, so to speak, and continued preening.

When Arthur arrived on the scene, Hester was very comfortable eating out of my hand. He would wait patiently below on the water until she was ready to join him. It took me a little while to make the connection. For one thing, she didn't try to shoe him away like she did the others and she would swim away with him when she was ready. After I became aware of him I started to accept him too.

There is a lot more to my and Hesters history but I will go ahead and post this. My other observations will be included sporatically in future posts. 

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