The Personality Series: Sofiya Doodle

Sofiya Pig (February 24, 2010 - November 5, 2016)

There is nothing quite like a duckling with her little smile. The way she flaps her stubby wings. The way she dabbles her wee rubber bill in the cereal you've made for her from grains and romaine lettuce. The way she peeps if she cannot see you. She needs warmth, friends, and supervised playtime--her mother must watch over her. Sofiya, so tiny, with her three companions from a box that the post office had delayed somewhere back when I was ignorant and thought that because it's common practice, shipping ducklings must be fine--in February, no less--stared up at me feebly. One baby in the bunch, a Khaki Campbell, had died and I tearfully buried her on the side yard. The remaining three, Sofiya--a Pekin, CoCo--a Khaki, and Huey (later known as Wee-Woo)--an Embden gander, were so small, maybe two days old, their egg tooths still attached. They seemed weak on their legs. Vulnerable. Never again will I ship ducklings. And since February of 2010 when this took place, I have learned many valuable lessons about animal rescue and my views have drastically changed.

But that is not the reason for this post. This is Sofiya's post. She died in her sleep last Saturday (November 5, 2016). This is her story.

Sofiya and CoCo cuddling in the March sunshine, 2010.
Sofiya, already a hint of cunning in her precious eyes.

2010: Tiny Beginners

Sofiya, so little and innocent.
There they were, three tiny beings who'd been tossed about a hatchery and shipped in a box, never to lay eyes on a waterfowl mother. After a long journey in darkness, the box opens to light and air and warmth and they hear my voice. I place them on a towel before a heater, teach them how to eat, and give them their first muck-about on the playground: a plastic lid, in it water and tiny bits of lettuce. They sway a bit on weakened legs. They test the water. Their eyes are a bit pinched--a sign of weakness. I give them electrolytes and talk to them. Soon they are scratching and dipping their bills in the water. I capture a photograph of Sofiya as she scratches her dainty nostril and it looks like she's in kindergarten karate. Soon she and her companions, CoCo and Huey, are running in small, exuberant circles, always coming back to me. The electrolytes, food, and companionship have strengthened their bodies and morale. Now they are warm and they feel safe. It is their first day exploring the world, albeit a strange world unlike any waterfowl are meant to grow up in. But they do not know that, at least I don't think they do. So they are waiting for what comes next and that is up to me. I must not disappoint them. 

Tiny Sofiya in the bath on what may have been her first day of real life. CoCo is playing behind her, only the fuzz of her chocolate bum visible in the photo.
Sofiya and CoCo seemed so sad when they came out of that box sent from the hatchery.  Who would they grow up to be?

Stronger Every Day

Sofiya, Huey, and CoCo.
Soon Sofiya and her pals are diving and splashing in the big bathtub together, always supervised. The water is lukewarm and deep and I am right there watching every second. The fun that they have seems unparalleled in the human world, I think, as I see Huey, the gosling, dive and surface, his down slicked back as if he's a in a motorcycle gang. CoCo splashes and dips, leaning to one side just like adult ducks do when they go through their bathing routines, her tiny wings flapping. Sofiya comes up to my outstretched hand for a taste, begging me to drop greens into the tub. The three babies still do not have the protection of waterproofing oil, which is produced by their oil glands, because I am not a perfect duck mother--I lack an oil gland--and cannot use my duct to oil their tiny bodies. This is probably a fact I had yet to learn at the time for it was the end of my first year with ducks. Not since
Sofiya riding her own waves.
childhood had I kept them. But I knew one thing for certain--I was in love, deeply. Every time I looked at them my heart swelled. I remembered as a child growing attached to them right away when my mother brought some to our little farm. They were my babies. No baby dolls or stuffed toys could take their place. I'm not sure we knew what we were doing back on the farm then. Other than the few photographs I've found, I don't know what happened to our (my) ducks. I was too young to understand.

But watching the babies dive and frolic, I felt a connection far from superficial. I knew the connection would last a lifetime. That, perhaps, it had always been there since I first laid eyes on ducklings and goslings back in 1978 or so, when I was about five. And here I was watching these three darlings find out who they were in reference to the world around them. In a sense I hated the notion that I was in control of their environment. That I, like a god, could steer them in any direction I wanted. There was something a bit despicable about that. Something unfair. Yet, here they were. I would do my best to show them a world that was safe and plentiful. 

I watched as they grew, sometimes sprouting taller it seemed within a day. From the plastic pool I kept them in, I noticed they'd gaze beyond its confines out across the living room.

Sofiya stretches while CoCo and Huey gaze across the living room into the Beyond.

An afternoon snack of greens.

One day I took them to a local park. The grass had not turned green yet, but it was a warm and bright day. On the grass they played by my side and rested in the sunshine. Eventually, Huey fell asleep on CoCo.

They were at the age where the pin feathers in their tails were hardening. Their tails curved, poky and alert, giving them that "rubber ducky" appeal. It had only been about a week and half, perhaps two, since I'd opened that box. There wouldn't be much time left to teach them all they needed to know.

Sofiya's alert tail.

"Make Way, We're Venturing Outside"

Soon it was time to go out back where all the grown up ducks spent their days foraging and living their soap opera-esque lives. At first they stood around, all looking in different directions, perhaps making certain their backs were safely toward each other in case of the unexpected. I supervised them, made sure none of the adults decided to play the part of bully. 

One of the first backyard excursions.
It wasn't long before the ground began giving up winter and a shovel could be used to turn the earth, exposing worms. This was the first hint that Sofiya was a born leader with a mind of her own who would take crap from no one. She wasted no time diving into the dirt and chased away any adult who got in her way.

Sofiya on top of the biggest dirt pile where all the worms hid.
Sofiya chases Noi from what had suddenly become "her pile".
Since the ground had thawed, the three babies discovered that mud could be made from water and dirt, so they went to work. This was a time of further bonding and learning.

CoCo and Sofiya discover that mud is fun to play in.
At this time, Huey, who had since been nicknamed Wee-Woo due to the fact that he cried "Wee-Woo" when he was touched, still clung to the two ducklings as if they were his siblings.

CoCo, Wee-Woo, and Sofiya on a walkabout in the yard, no doubt discussing plans to raid the adults' worm pile.

A Wee Surprise

What Sofiya, CoCo, and Wee-Woo didn't know yet was that there were soon to be two more ducklings, a little younger, who were ready to come outside and frolic in the backyard. Dot-Dot and Dali were a couple weeks younger and not quite as imprinted on me as the older trio. 

Dot-Dot and Dali inside the black fleece pouch I used to keep them warm.
Dali and Dot-Dot enjoying fresh air from within their laundry basket nursery.
The biggest surprise was the way CoCo took them under her stumpy wings and showed them the ropes. 

Dali and Dot-Dot took an immediate liking to CoCo and began following her around the yard. I watched as CoCo showed them how to scan the ground for morsels.
That day I learned that CoCo had a nurturing personality.
And it wasn't long before CoCo became the brunt of Dali's antics.

As the Weeks Wore On

Sofiya and her crew spent more and more time in the yard with the big ducks, Dot-Dot and Dali by their sides. Soon they were all marching into the midst of the main flock, dabbling in the mud, and paying them no mind and vice versa.

Lucy Goose, left, takes a sip from a pool as Sofiya, Dot-Dot, Dali, and CoCo dabble in the mud.
But I noticed Wee-Woo, the gosling, began drifting away from the group of duck girls little by little. Still, if I walked away, they were sure to follow--especially Wee-Woo. The girls had each other, but it was clear that Wee-Woo felt a out of place and moreso each day.

Wee-Woo and Sofiya follow me to around the adults' pool.
Wee-Woo's fascination with Lucy Goose has begun. Here he stands next to the pool, watching her bathe.
But what happened when I walked away? Wee-Woo came running after me. He wasn't ready to be in the big world--not for a few more weeks. 
Sofiya, Wee-Woo, CoCo (a feather stuck to her face), and Dot-Dot. Wee-Woo went back to his adopted siblings for the time being. 

Almost There

The transition to teenage adventures approached with lightning speed. Ducks grow so fast! Soon they had feathers sprouting and spent most of the day scratching and preening their follicles of dander. Feather maintenance is serious business that requires patience and skill. 

The beginning of the teen years--CoCo and Sofiya--mud still in the forefront of their minds.
Sofiya, what are we to do about this? In the future it will become clear that Sofiya would get the worm at all costs.

Early Summer

By early summer, just like that one day, Dot-Dot, Dali, Sofiya, and CoCo became the "Girl Gang".
No one stood in their way. The four girls had become the notorious "Girl Gang". Summer had begun and worms were plenty. The "Girl Gang" could empty the pool of any and all bathing adults. They were Summer 2010's force to be reckoned with. They ate together. Swam together. Snoozed together in the prime nap spots. And they also seemed to be lovers. There wasn't a drake around who succeeded in mating with them. If a drake approached, they'd turn on him together, send him waddling away, defeated and ashamed. 

Wee-Woo and Sofiya have a brief conversation at the salad bar. Wee-Woo was with Lucy now and his main concern had become protecting her from invisible threats.

A Sudden, Horrible Loss

The end of summer approached. All was calm and as it should be. But one night there was a mixup. (I had so many ignorances to sort out.) The ducks were finished in the yard for the day and put away in their secure pen. Except Dali. That day Sofiya and "Girl Gang" suffered a tragic loss, something I had an excruciating time coming to terms with. A terrible mistake. Dali had hidden beneath the platform next to the duck pool when I put the ducks in their pen. I missed her. A dog did not.
Beautiful Dali.

Moving on Without a Friend

I'm certain that my ducks have never forgotten that horrible experience--watching their friend run for her life and then die. How do we move on from these tragedies? For me it was a matter of never making the same mistake again. From then on I counted and double counted the flock each time I moved them. I never mixed the dog area and the duck area in the same way again. And I beat myself up day and night. I wished I had had someone--a seasoned duck whisperer--to call to my attention how costly such mistakes could be. But I didn't. And so Sofiya, CoCo, and Dot-Dot, without their fourth lover, disbanded. The "Girl Gang" was no more. Instead, they meandered about the yard with the other adults, often maintaining some distance from each other, although CoCo and Sofiya remained companions. Dot-Dot went off alone. I hated myself.

Sofiya, fully feathered, beautiful and with grace.
Sofiya, I called her my "Pig", the Pekin with the almond eyes.

2011, A New Year

Sofiya and Dot-Dot hanging out with the geese.
2011, a busy year for me, Sofiya emerged as a strong, intelligent, and sometimes bossy hen. She began laying eggs. If she didn't like something I did, she told me where to go. Still, I could pick her up and hold her. She was huggable. Soft. Of loud quacker.

A Sofiya cuddle.
Once a worm hunter, always a worm hunter, and most often first in line and last to fill.
Somewhere along the lines it was discovered that Sofiya loved to eat mice. She loved tomatoes and would eat a lot of treats other ducks scoffed at. She became known as "Sofiya Pig".

Angelic, a wing stretch.
Sofiya practiced karate, just like when she was a duckling.
A relaxed summer afternoon lying next to Ming.
A cold winter night, late 2011 when the ducks were housed overnight in the tool shed.

2012, Moving Forward and Maturing

In 2012 Sofiya was 2-years old. She'd met my friend Christine's famous duck, Fritz, before Fritz had died suddenly of an egg stroke. They'd had a play date. Christine and I met at a pet store one day by accident when she had Fritz with her and we soon became good friends. After Fritz died, Christine rescued a Pekin drake named Lucas from California, had him flown up from Santa Barbara. But in 2012 Christine asked me to take care of Lucas for a while because she was moving across the state to Seattle and would be in an apartment for a while. When I took in Lucas, I thought maybe he would acclimate to my main flock, but soon found out that was impossible. As big as he was, every time King Augie challenged him to a fight, they both broke feathers and I made the ultimate decision to separate them.
Sofiya in the bath and Chai and Lucy look on.

Lucas, however, had spotted Sofiya during his time with the flock and their eyes met. He began following her everywhere as if he were a puppy and she the giver of treats. They were inseparable and so Sofiya joined Lucas on the other side of the fence.

Lucas argues through the fence with Sofiya's once best friend CoCo as Sofiya backs him up in defending her decision to join Lucas.
Soon it became evident that Sofiya, on the smaller side for a Pekin, could not bear the brunt of Lucas's love holds to the back of her neck as she became bald, her head scabbed over from his mating rituals. It was at this point I decided to find a few more girls to join Lucas. I found a place in Idaho where the ducks could end up on dinner plates and I came home with NoraLuka, a Pekin/blue Swede, Mallaidh, a blue Swede, and Bee, a buff/blue Swede, all 2011 babies. Bee had a small amount of down still present near her tail. While I am glad that I brought these girls home, if I were to add to my flock now, I would only add rescues who were in dire need of saving. Another lesson I've learned over the years.

Lucas, when he struggled to integrate into the main flock, being chased by Louise.

Another Loss in Sofiya's Family

Beautiful Wee-Woo, during his last days.
Earlier 2011, before Lucas came to stay with us, Wee-Woo began wobbling unsteadily on his feet. I brought him inside the house where he vomited a mass of straw mixed with tiny, miscellaneous metal parts. The veterinarian diagnosed him with metal poisoning and prescribed breast injections of Calcium EDTA. This treatment worked for a while, but then Wee-Woo's symptoms returned and he quickly deteriorated. We had to say goodbye. Lucy Goose was heartbroken. I placed his body on the floor and let her discover him. She ruffled his feathers, tried to wake him, nudged him with her bill, vocalized a few soft, Gung, gung, gungs, and then turned and walked away from him. It was clear she knew. I don't know why Wee-Woo excavated all those tiny metal parts. No one else has ever done that. He must have been drawn to them for some reason. I guess some birds are as it is often the case that heavy metal poisoning occurs when they swallow coins. Now there were only three survivors in Sofiya's little family: CoCo, Dot-Dot, and herself.

But Sofiya had other plans and a new life ahead of her. Lucas was her partner now, which changed everything in her ducky life. She wasn't just another duck in Augie's flock. She was special not only to me, but to Lucas first and foremost. It was now her job to establish rank within his flock of new girls, The Rafters--so named after another word for flock. When a flock is on the water, they are known as a "Raft". And so she did.

Lucas with Sofiya and The Rafters.
Mallaidh (pronounced Mollie) and Bee.
NoraLuka, the biggest member of The Rafters, part of Lucas's new flock.
Lucas during one of his many visits from Christine.

2013, Cruising Along as An Adult

Over the years Miss Sofiya was one of the ducky girls who had to come inside the house on occasion and be treated for laying problems. Often during molts she'd experience soft-shelled eggs which were difficult to pass. She'd soak in a warm tub and receive added nutrition and, sometimes, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, until she got better. I worried a lot about this, because the treatments for such cases are few and far between and often unsuccessful if even available. So we did the best we could. 

Lucas talking to Sofiya. He bup-bupped her webbed feet off.
"Get your hands out of my pen!" Lucas did not like me reaching into his pen. He was master of his domain. Christine was his caretaker. Where was she? He wanted to know.
Lucas, Sofiya, and the Rafters loved feasting on Jerusalem artichoke leaves and so I would throw entire stalks into their pen. The Rafters were not the tamest ducks, and I had grown to understand how little ducks enjoy being handled, which meant I left them be most of the time, except to check their health. Christine seemed happy that Lucas was happy. At one time it seemed he would never get along with other ducks. He'd been raised with dogs and took an unhealthy liking to them, which was dangerous for him, because he could get hurt chasing after and biting dogs. No doubt it surprised all of us when he fell for Sofiya. And with the introduction of The Rafters I daresay he was beside himself. It was a miracle, it seemed. He couldn't be happier. 

Lucas and Bee.


2014, The Move

Christine found a house south of Seattle at last. Her duck pen under construction, I knew Sofiya would be leaving soon. Christine was the only person in the world I would ever trust to take one of my flock. There was no way I could separate her from Lucas. Clearly he was the love of her life and she his. The right thing to do was let her go. In the last few months I had to spend with them, I gave them treats and took photos, talked to them, and prepared my heart for the inevitable. 

Lucas had put on a lot of weight after gaining his own flock. He was happy and healthy.
Mallaidh, so pretty in the spring sunshine.
Christine takes the security of the flock seriously. She began arrangements securing a permit from the mayor of the historic town where she purchased a house. She wanted to make sure the ducks were protected from all predators during the nighttime, so the duck house was custom made.

The following photos and videos are from Christine:

Laying out the area for Christine's duck pen.
After the long drive across the state, secure in their duck house.
Secure in their house.
A day out exploring with Christine by their side.
Sofiya flirts with Lucas while he's in the tub. She's #1.
More Sofiya flirts in the duck house.
Exploring a hollow tree. 
Sofiya, front.
After the electric fence went up.

2015 and Until Today (11/10/16)

I got the news on Sunday, November 5th. Sofiya had died in her sleep the night before while Christine was in Spokane for her daughter's wedding. I know that Sofiya was happy. She'd lived a great life with Lucas by her side and Christine at the helm. This year Lucas suffered an infection in his hocks, which seems to be a common ailment among larger Pekin ducks. This has slowed him down a bit. He spends most of his time, I hear, in the pool floating, the weight off his tired joints. I'm sure he will miss Sofiya with her big personality. Sofiya was the duck Christine could hold in her arms. 

Sweet dreams, our sweet, piggy Sofiya.

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