The Personality Series: Augie March - King of Doodles

Who is the great Augie March - King of Doodles? He seems kind of famous in some circles and if you saw him in person it would be apparent that no one pushes him around...much. While Ming and Clyde were due to hatch shortly, Augie came home from Big R with me. He, of course, was hatched in March of 2009, a Cayuga duckling, actually more of a chocolate brown color than black like most Cayugas. (Cayuga is a Native American tribe from the area where New York is now located. There is also a Lake Cayuga. This breed of large black duck with iridescent green sheen was developed in the mid 1880s as a non-flying, dual purpose breed descended from the wild mallard.)
     Augie was such a little guy. I named him Augie because that was the name that rolled off my tongue one day as I was chatting with him. I later found that the name is included in the title of a novel by Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March, and that is where it came creeping from--the depths of my subconscious mind. (He liked to repeat a soft chirping that sounded to me like, "Little-duck, little-duck, little-little, duck-duck!) We would go on and on like this, interacting, as I kept him warm. I devoted the first few months of his life caring for him as best I could, trying to imitate many of the behaviors a mother duck would in order to keep him healthy. He slept next to me on a heating pad, beneath a blanket and if he woke during the night I would find out if he was hungry if he nibbled at my fingers gently. For a while it was like having a newborn baby, minus the shrill screams, of course.
     Augie was a traveling duck. He grew up taking car rides, sometimes in my lap, other times in his laundry basket, which served as a sort of transport mechanism and a resting place while he was at home. He traveled to Seattle, Montana, to the pet store in Spokane, and to the arboretum, and, later, he had a play date with a beautiful Pekin named Fritz who lives on Spokane's south hill. The reason Augie rides in the car so well, and enjoys it, is because  he began riding in the car when he was a young duckling. The only thing he doesn't like is when a huge semi truck blasts past us. Sometimes this startles him. That's why it is never a good idea to roll the window down with your pet duck sitting on your lap, because he or she may become startled and fly out the window. It's not safe!
     Augie is quite a character. He would accompany me to the park to watch my step daughters play basketball while he sat in the rest flap of his pet carrier or he would nestle on my lap and make squeaky teenage drake noises. He also followed me faithfully, so I could take him to the local arboretum where dogs were not allowed and we could walk, still do, around. People sometimes ask how I get a duck to do this, assuming he is a wild duck, or others will be wise enough to ask about having a pet duck, because obviously he's my duck. (Ha ha.) Whenever I make feather earrings for The Lucy Goose, Augie sneaks up and steals my beading tools and runs away with them. I end up chasing him as he zig-zags across the yard, dragging my pliers or a plastic bag filled with beads through mud. Silly boy! Last fall I found him messing with something that looked like a pebble in the swimming pool. I picked it up and wiped it off to find it was a glass heart. I thought, "O Augie, you've given me your heart!"
     When Augie was about six weeks old he began spending time with Ming and Clyde, my Indian runner boys hatched from eggbid eggs, and Lucy, my Embden gosling. At first Augie had to be separated because he was older and picked on the little ones, but soon they were running around together and even went on a trip to Montana and a camping trip where they played in the creek all afternoon. It wasn't long after this that Augie began displaying adolescent mating behaviors. His hormones kicked in and he was not shy about choosing a mate. Guess who his first choice was? That's right---it was me. At first it was funny. I'd be lounging about reading while kicked back on my chair and Augie would jump up on my chest and start positioning himself. It was easy to laugh and place him on the ground. He gave up easily at first, but as the months drew on, he tried other tactics, such as grabbing the skin on the back of my hands or arms when I was preoccupied with yard work. In order to get free I would have to remove him, which would result in welts and bruises. A duck friend of mine told me to discipline him by taking his bill in my hand gently and saying, "NO!" when he did this, but my friend said to be careful not to "break Augie's little heart". Besides me he favored the goose, who eventually began allowing him to mate with her. (I think this is because she's a sweet and tolerant goose, not because she's attached to him or chosen him as her mate. Geese are different; they form lifelong partners. Domestic ducks tend to mate with various partners.) And, even to this day, Augie comes running if I enter the duck pen or let him out to play in the yard. I've become so used to having my skin snapped by his bill that sometimes I don't notice I have welts until hours or, perhaps, a day later. I become focused on a task and before I know it he's got me. (It's dangerous to wear shorts.)
     When people come up to me and say, "O I want a duck as a pet. He's so cute!" I don't really recommend that they get a duck as a pet. Ducks aren't for everyone. For one thing, Augie was a cute little duckling, but he grew up within a matter of weeks and became an adolescent with raging hormones. Now he's a drake. He likes to mate, take baths, dabble, and sometimes he gets into tussles with the other drakes, especially Ming, over my goose Lucy. This spring the rivalry between Ming and Augie reached a climax. Ming lost all of his chest feathers because  he broke Augie's tail feathers off. Augie's been walking around all spring with a silly looking butt--no long tail feathers, just a single curved drake feather that resembles a bee stinger. Some people would maybe ask why I tolerate Augie's behavior. Why would I keep him if he's always running at me and leaving welts? Well, Augie's just doing what a drake does. He's not being nasty or aggressive, rather he is trying to mate and it follows that he would logically see me as his mate since he is imprinted on humans. Even in his overall relation to the rest of the flock, Augie is cool and collected. He isn't too interested in the female ducks, but as the months have wore on he's integrated and is part of a buddy system which includes Ming and Clyde. They are often seen cheering each other on while one of them is mating and/or looking out for each other--when Ming isn't jealous about Lucy the goose.
     On the other hand, for informational purposes I would not recommend getting a male duckling as a pet for a child, though I've heard it works out fine sometimes. It may be that Augie was imprinted heavier than many children would be capable of if given a pet duckling. After all how many children's parents would allow them to sleep with their duck like I did with Augie? Not many, since it requires a lot of towels and wee pads, constant cleaning and supervision. It would be better for young children to have female ducks or more than one duck so that they imprint on each other. My drake Iliya was raised with six females and he never gives me a second thought. Clyde, who was raised with Ming and Lucy, was imprinted to a degree, though not as much as Augie, and he still chases me, but if he bites it's not hard so not an issue. There really are many questions to ask when deciding whether or not to imprint a bird. It is a serious commitment and I don't believe it's an option to "get rid of" the bird if he or she doesn't turn out the way one intends. Each bird has his/her own personality, so there is no way to ensure that a pet duck will be as responsive as one wants.  Remember: you're in it for a lifetime.
     People have also mentioned to me how they would've never  imagined a duck could have so much personality, yet after visiting my flock and seeing it with their own eyes, they are amazed. Yes, ducks are characters. Augie tests me just like a dog would. Last year when I planted tomatoes he would sneak up to the plants and touch them with his bill and then look at me with his beady eyes. Of course I'd tell him no, so he'd touch the leaves again, maybe nibble a bit, until I told him no a second time. If I didn't catch him in time he'd rip off a few leaves and run off with them. Augie is now over a year old and I've since found out there's a band called Augie March, though I've never listened to them. Right now he's foraging in the yard beneath the plum tree, as I write this, his head turning as he looks back and forth and waddles about. He rather resembles one of those cartoon body builders who have a huge muscular torso and teeny-tiny skinny legs--you know, the ones who walk around in speedos as if their butts are hungry. I've noticed, too, that he keeps one eye on me all the time. From across the yard his beady black eye will be fixed in my direction. He knows his name and will often, when he chooses, break out of the flock and come running when I call him.
     In March 2010, around his first birthday, he was asked by a local artist to participate in a gallery show, Happiness and Torture, part of an exhibit called MONTH, held here in Spokane at Kolva-Sullivan Gallery. Along with Ming, Clyde, and Lucy, Augie wandered about the gallery squirting duck doo here and there as a torture scene ensued. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition between the tension created by the torture scene and the glee in the faces of gallery goers as they mused at the flock. The idea, said Bruce Hormann, one of the artists, was to create an ethical dilemma. At the end of the month the MONTH project came to an end with a final party. Augie attended the party without any other flock members. He delighted people, as usual, and caused trouble by knocking down their piles of carefully placed pink rocks. (Augie doesn't tend to chase me or pinch when we're out and about.) Eventually, he became tired and slept in the middle of the gallery floor, standing on one leg, one eye open just a crack. 

Augie (far right) at Kolva-Sullivan Gallery

Augie visits with Jamie at the MONTH finale party.

A young Augie during a trip to Seattle.

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