Day 1 (Sunday, June 17th, 2012): Duck Sitting Ghalita

March 25th, 2011, Ghala was found in a parking lot.
Photo by Adry G.
If you look up "duck sitting" on the Internet, you'll find numerous links to the old idiom "sitting duck," which, according to the "Free Dictionary," means "defenseless victim." So, why has Google Search turned the term "duck sitting" around? I figure it's the lack of use of this term on the Internet or that there is not a formal definition created for it...yet.
     Meet Ghalita, a year and a half old muscovy mule I'm duck sitting for Adry and C. from Lafayette, Louisiana. Adry contacted me through the duck network on Facebook, a way of collaboration for hundreds of duck lovers across the globe, some who keep pet ducks inside their homes. At first this might sound ridiculous. Who would keep a duck as a pet, and who....who? WHO? would keep a duck inside their house or apartment?
     It's quite simple, really.
Ghala, our guest, stays close to my feet as Louise, my house duck,
looks on, perhaps jealous just a bit.
     Ducks are social people, just like people-people. They form bonds with their parents just like we do. They communicate with subtle, and not so subtle, body language and they speak with not only quacks, but peeps and beeps and boooo-WAAAAAAKs, among other sounds, which are obviously not just sounds, but part of the duck language. Many people communicate with their animal friends using human language and some people still think animals are incapable of learning, yet I'm convinced those people are mistaken. There have been many people I've known who would have assumed my muscovy drake, Sao-Ree, would only respond to the sound of my voice and not just anyone calling his name. I've proved that he responds to his name and not my voice by having strangers call him. They're always shocked, but leave with a new understanding, something that blows their minds--that crazy looking dinosaur bird thing knows his name!
Ghala peeks over the sofa, before jumping up to be closer
to humans, her ultimate companions.
     Now, think of other birds that you know of like parrots and song birds, starlings and ravens. Think of all the shows you've seen on television or studies you've read where parrots solve difficult puzzles and ravens wait for traffic lights in order to crack nuts and starlings have their own rules of grammar and song birds, well, Beethoven quoted three in his famous Pastoral Symphony. We have to admit, too, it's common knowledge that birds follow complex migratory routes and, as studies have indicated, have active memories, some being able to hide and find thousands of nuts in desert country where the landscape would appear duplicated to the human eye.
     It's important to ask who performs these studies, too? Are the researchers students working on doctoral theses? How much time do researchers spend with the birds and how close can they get to their subjects? Now, ask what would the difference be if the researchers lived with the birds, interacting and observing them for more than six hours per day, transporting them to different environments, introducing them to various situations? Perhaps, it is time to ask some duck people.
     Duck Mama. Duck Papa. Duck Parents. Duck People. Duck Lovers. Are they just people who are fascinated with the fluffiness of a hatchling duck? Or are duck people like everyone else who enjoys the company of animals, whether they be cats, dogs, rats, turtles or goldfish?
     One of the first things I hear from people after they've seen my ducks is, "Wow! I never knew ducks had such individual personalities."
     "There's so much more," I tell them.
     And there is. Just ask my new friend Adry who traveled by car with her duck Ghalita (Ghala) from Lafayette, Louisiana to Spokane, Washington (where I live) about a week ago so she could leave Ghala, for the very first time in their one and a half year relationship, with a duck sitter--a stranger, no less--who was referred over the infamous Internet by yet another reputed duck lover/keeper. (Yes, we are out there!) Ghala is Adry's baby, no less, something that few people truly understand.
     On Sunday, June 17th, 2012, in anticipation of their arrival, I performed yet another inspection of our already metal-free floors just in case something, a penny, Bobby pin, screw, had escaped my attention, for Ghalita was due to arrive any hour and she had been hospitalized in the past due to her obsession with small, shiny metal objects. Like most new duck parents, Adry ended up on an unexpected crash-course, learning about how to raise a duckling, when she stumbled upon hatchling Ghala in a windy parking lot, she soon told me not long after her arrival at my house.
Ghala stares across the yard at my muscovies, Sao-Ree and Jing-Jai.
     We sat out back at the picnic table overlooking my small urban farmyard where Adry and her husband C. continually complimented my cauliflower curry, stir fry and homemade naan, as well as my urban farm, while I blushed and asked questions about Ghala, who stood on the picnic table bench, peering at the red faces of my own muscovies, Sao-Ree and Jing-Jai Dactyl who strutted on the other side of the deck.
     Not long after their arrival, we determined that Ghala is a mule--a cross between a wild mallard and a muscovy, two separate species of duck--and so is infertile. Her face, lacking the significant red caruncles of both the male and female muscovy, and her claws, thick and dull, instead of sharp, trilled and raised her small crest as we talked to her. She seemed to take to me right away as I cooed to her, repeating the sounds she made, sounds that were familiar to me already. She found this agreeable, stretching her neck toward me and opening her bill into the cool evening air as if serenading me with a "Lalalalalalalalala" chorus.
Me holding Ghalita, Ghalita's mama, Adry (center) and her husband.
     "I was driving through a parking lot on a windy day and I saw something fuzzy whiz by out of the corner of my eye," Adry said.
     An animal lover all the way, Adry couldn't help herself, she had to pull over and walk up to where the wind-swept ball had come to rest beneath the wheel of an SUV.
     "I can't imagine what would have happened had I not stopped. She was still wet, like she'd just hatched. I didn't know anything about ducks, except that I had to keep her warm, so I held her like that for three days, cupped in my hand, even while I slept."
     As Adry and I talked it was apparent how much we had in common and that her learning curve had been sudden, yet thorough, as she'd been chosen, it seems, to be a duck mother by fate.
     "I never imagined I'd have a duck," she said.
My Louise stares at the newcomer Ghala.
     She told me she learned about duck diapers on the Internet and hadn't imagined there was such a thing. But she learned fast...about how much ducks poop, about ducks and their attraction to shiny metal objects and about just how attached a duckling becomes to its mother. A person has to change their living situation when a duck enters the scene. There's no room for error which means anything from losing an earring in the bathroom to dropping a coin on the carpet can be disastrous. With a duck around one paper clip can mean heavy metal poisoning, an illness that requires prompt veterinary attention, including x-rays and possible surgery, if the metal parts are not regurgitated by the duck on its own, and, often, a series of Calcium-EDTA injections in the breast muscle to rid the duck's system of the damaging effects of metal that can remain in the body and cause neurological dysfunction and, in extreme cases, liver failure.
     Adry has traveled all over the United States with Ghala riding shotgun. Surprisingly, ducks, like dogs, learn to enjoy and even look forward to car rides. But this year Adry wanted to join her husband, a pilot, on a flight partway across the Pacific Ocean and feared it was too much to put Ghala through, so began searching for someone she could trust to care for Ghala while she traveled. That's when Adry found me.
Ghala, Louise and Yuri on Ghala's first night here.
Adry stepped forward and wrapped her arms around me before heading, reluctantly--I could tell--out the door.
     "Thank you...for everything," she said.
As Ghala perched on the back of my sofa, looking out the window as Adry and C.'s car backed out of the driveway and pulled smoothly away into the dark, I had a feeling there might be tears. I knew Ghala was Adry's baby. But I wanted to give Adry a moment to adjust to being without Ghala who she hadn't spent a day without since finding her wet hatchling body blowing head-over-heels through the parking lot that day when they became bonded.
     Not long after their departure, though, we began texting.
     Me: Ghala, Louise (my buff house duck) and Yuri (my mastiff/lab) are all in the kitchen with me. Ghala by my left foot and Louise by my right. They've already both tagged along through the house. Seem indifferent to each other.
     Adry: Lol...That's awesome. I hope they befriend each other. :-P
     Me: Louise is having a mini fit, taking it out on the coffee table cover. Hahaha.
     Adry: Lol!! They're so funny! She is probably a little jealous.

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