When we took on our six ducks, we had no idea how industrious these little birds are, how intelligently they interrogate their environment, and how creatively and assiduously they set about shaping it to their needs.
They spent a few days settling in, then after some reconnaissance, they set to work tidying up their pond, which we had originally dug out over ten years ago. The roots of the surrounding willows, planted over 15 years ago, have bound in the banks and base, so it holds water all the time. The ducks’ first project was to flatten and trim all the edges, test the pond for depth, and pat the banks into shape. They thought the water level was too high, so they dug a neat little run-off which directed water straight onto the path.
We disagreed with their decision and blocked up the run-off, which was trickling steadily and turning the path into a mud bath. The ducks watched us resentfully, muttering at the way we had undone all their hard work. After we had left, they moved in and politely but firmly, dug another run-off right next to the repair.
They work together, and hold frequent builders’ meetings, standing round the site in question and discussing how it’s going; these talks often get quite heated, and there are raised voices during obviously passionate negotiations.
There are now a variety of earthworks taking place all over the hill. The first site is being used for mud baths. There is a nascent pond appearing between the mud bath and the existing pond. One wonders if they are creating some sort of elaborate system for cleansing, like a Turkish bath. While works are in progress, the new holes become feeding sites, as the bare earth is obviously lifting with fresh food. Then the geese are invited for tea, and it’s quite a party.
These projects seem designed to create running water. We now have two new streams - as if we haven’t got enough of those already - and are beginning to worry that if our ducky labourers keep this up, our hill might actually be entirely flat within the next five years. Either that, or nibbled down to the bedrock, which will probably turn our hill into a waterfall, and we will require a winch to get down to the car …