Little Ming Has His Day

Everyone has his or her day, right? Whether they admit it or not, whether or not it's a formal occasion or something that happens to make the day stand out from most other days, everyone has a special day at some point, if not many points, during his or her lifetime. Today was Little Ming's special day--though it is quite possible his special day, from his perspective, occurred several days ago and there was no human around to bear witness.
     Ming is a black Indian runner duck, a 2000+ year old breed native to Malaysia and the south Pacific. His parents live on a farm back in Oklahoma and he arrived at my house, one of eight auctioned eggs from, and one of only three that hatched, and one of two that lived, after incubating under a broody hen. To complicate matters from the beginning, I ordered the eggs during relatively cold weather and they arrived via postal service. This can decrease chance of hatching, because the eggs are exposed to cold more than if they were shipped during later spring months. And on top of all this, Ming's egg, when candled, showed signs of deformity. First of all, his egg contained an unusually large, malformed air sac. The air sac is located at the large end of the egg and provides oxygen for the fetus. Instead of taking up 1/4 of the egg, Ming's air sac took up 1/3 or more and it was not symmetrical, but rather stretched lengthwise along the egg in addition to filling the large end of the egg as is usual.
     From the time of hatching there was something about Ming. He was a follower. His older half brother, Clyde, who turned out to be half wild mallard, was born two days earlier and an extremely active duckling, always running here and there, picking up strings, pecking Ming in his groggy face. As soon as Ming stood and began running around, it has been Ming and Clyde ever since. Until, of course, they met Lucy a gosling they immediately fell in love and snuggled with. My friend M. came over one day to sex Ming and Clyde and the first words out of his mouth were that the little all-black duckling had the biggest penis he'd ever seen. Of course this became a running joke as we watching Ming turn into his entertaining older self.

     Ming never enjoyed the water as much as the other ducks. King Augie was a sea horse. Clyde dips and bathes, diving and splashing and chasing goldfish under water. But, Ming? He struggles to get into the pool. If he's helped into the pool, he immediately hops out. His skinny neck, which I might add is slightly crooked (this seems to be from the way he was squished in the egg around the deformed air sac), turns left and right as he takes tiny running steps beneath an erect body. He runs in the opposite direction of the pool, looks left, then right, then left, then right, then turns around and jogs back to the pool where he starts to pull grass, acting as if he never wanted in the water to begin with. If, perchance, he does get in the pool, he's formed the habit of pushing the other ducks with his bill so that they vacate the pool, leaving him all alone where he dips tiny dips and flutters his wings delicately.
     I've always thought of him as "poor Little Ming" for these reasons and more. After Lucy Goose arrived (she was hatched a couple of weeks after Ming and Cyde) she was kept in a laundry basket with Ming and Clyde during nap time where the three of them peeped and cuddled. One day Ming was settled on the bottom of the basket, Clyde was doing something else, and Lucy was standing up with her butt in Ming's face. Suddenly a string of poop, like a strip of thick yarn, glided out of her butt, the start of it resting on Ming's right cheek, and as it came out slowly it followed a path along Ming's face so that both of his eyes were covered, and he was blindfolded, completely, by Lucy's turd. Ming, still resting, began a bewildered cheeping--that lost duckling sound, like a car alarm, that means where are you? Oh, where are you? Don't leave me here!

     Yes, I laughed, but took note of this occurrence, forever using it to mark the many following circumstances that seemed to point toward a tough life for Little Ming. Soon Ming, Augie, and Clyde grew up, molted their youth feathers, and approached sexual maturity with what seemed to be a bit of obvious confusion. For one thing, the only female around, besides myself, was Lucy Goose. Ming clung to her as if she was his mama. He tried to snuggle beneath her wings, even when her wings were like stunted T-rex claws. Then as she grew bigger he followed her everywhere and my friends and I began joking about this Steve Irkle-type runner duck who worshipped a big white mama goose. It seemed like Ming had decided Lucy was his.
     The next unfortunate occurrence in Ming's life was the onset of a condition called angel or dropped wing. The wings twist and begin to grown outward from the body. In Ming's case the wings were taped several times, which managed to correct most of the condition, except for a few feathers that have never stayed in place beneath the others. Angel wing is either genetic or can be caused by feeding a poultry food that is higher than 16% protein.
     But, then Augie started mating with Lucy in the pool. It is difficult to say exactly when Ming became most confused, or if he had always been, but it was apparent that he did not mate with Lucy as he never attempted it in the pool and the closest he came was to approach her out of the water and place his head on her back in what appeared to be a move toward domination. There was no way he could climb on top, so for him to try it seemed ridiculous.
     One day all was peaceful until Augie started chasing Ming. Ming ran around the yard with his mouth open, which is the posture of a duck who is saying, Back off and leave me alone! Augie caught up with him and grabbed the back of his neck, throwing him face-first on the lawn where he, Augie, then mounted him, his big webbed feet flattened on Ming's back as Ming screamed in his hoarse drake voice.

     So for a couple of months I would see this once in a while--Ming running from either Augie or Clyde, two adolescents in sexual overdrive who were practicing their moves. (Some may ask whether or not actual penetration occurred and I can say, from what I saw, that no, it did not. It seems unusual for the drakes to achieve penetration even with hens when they are out of water.) I would have been relieved had Ming chased Augie and Clyde, in turn, but this never happened--he was always the one screaming and running away.
     Soon the Quack Squad (seven ducklings) grew up enough to mingle with Augie, Ming, Lucy, and Clyde. They went from fuzz balls to feathered adolescents dappled with down on their necks and sides. Long before sexual maturity, a particular girl, a black runner named Mary, began courting Augie and Clyde. This has gone on for over a month and a half now--even though she was not even close to sexual maturity. So, Augie and Clyde began mating with Mary. And within a month the other females began courting the males, too. But there was something different about Little Ming.
     The girls who approached Ming were sharply discouraged by his biting bill as he'd continue dabbling in the mud or walking about aimlessly, ignoring their advances. When in the pool Ming would run them out, send them scattering out onto the lawn, and then he'd start to bathe, delicately, alone in the pool. I watched him day in and day out, nudging flirtatious girls out of his path, sometimes seeming to mistake Augie for a female, too. He'd sneak up, walking on his runner tip-toes, on a grazing pullet and peck her in the bum. In turn the pullet would do a 180, surprisingly nimble, into the air and waddle away.
     Poor Little Ming! Would he always be alone, on the outskirts of the flock, just a lost doodle, his head turning left and then right as he jogged through the yard aimlessly? Not today!

     Today I saw Mary flatten herself, chirping invitations under her duckie breath as Ming circled her, stepped right on her neck, and stood there--on Mary's neck--for a long moment wearing his DUH! face before finally climbing on her back. She let out the usual QUACK! QUAAAAACK! QUAAAAAAAAACK! while Ming balanced himself and then, in one stiff movement, collapsed to the side, on the ground, as if he were suddenly turned to stone, or a decoy. (This is what the drakes do after mating.) Next he was on his feet, his head pointed forward as if streamlined in flight, running around in circles, this way and that, across the yard, and then back to the pool where he jumped in and began splashing wildly.
     Today was Little Ming's day!