Splish splash, peepers taking a bath

By catalyst

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “duck” as a web-footed broad-billed swimming bird, and “goose” as a web-footed long-necked typically gregarious migratory aquatic bird [emphasis added; definitions edited for brevity]. So basically, they both dig water, although Oxford, Webster and their buggies[1] note that geese are less aquatic than their web-footed broad-billed friends.

Yeah, I know there’s no worse way to begin a report of any kind than the way I just began this report, but I beg you: stick with me here.

We didn’t need to refer to a dictionary to learn about geese and ducks’ affinity for water. When our birds were mere chicks in the brooder – nothing more than balls of feather fluff pointed with little beaks, emitting adorable peeps – we had to work to keep them out of the water as they were susceptible to disease and life-threatening wet chills. It was a constant struggle. The ducklings especially seemed to want nothing more than to paddle around in their water bowl.

The ducklings and goslings – and later ducklings and goslings and chicks – made a waste-filled mess of your standard poultry watering can in no time. The best solution we came up with was a heavy kitchen bowl with an empty gelato container suctioned into middle. We did this by filling the gelato container about 90 percent full of water, inverting the watering dish on top of it, then flipping the whole shebang over right-wise. This creates a suction effect, making it difficult for the peepers to dislodge the container and scramble into the water bowl. There are probably more technical and effective solutions, but we’re Occam’s Razor kind of people, in search of the simplest answer.

When they were large enough, we provided the birds a makeshift pool – nothing more than a large pan from the kitchen if I recall correctly. After passing their swimming exams, we then graduated them to Katherine’s childhood pool: a green turtle-shaped basin with a concave shell. The birds frigging loved that pool. The dictionary might say that geese are less water loving than ducks, but we don’t notice much of a discrepancy in their aqua affinity.

Since day one when we received our grant from Slow Food Utah, the plan was to put in a permanent peeper pond out back. That plan became reality a couple weeks back. We purchased a prefab pond form from a local hardware store in early summer, so we more or less had everything we needed, but the real challenge was excavating the earth to fit the pond. My brother Phil performed that the bulk of that feat of labor in a day, and when I found the time weeks later I put on the finishing touches, dropped the form in place and filled it up.

The ducks and geese took to the pond tentatively. First a goose[2] slipped her beak into the water to take a sip, then the ducks moseyed around to have a look see. Of course, the ducks were the first to take a dip, but the geese weren’t far behind. Before I knew it, they were all in the pool, splish-splashing around before – and they do this often – all of a sudden one of them burst out of the water in a squawking fury and bolted through the nearby bush, followed closely by the rest of the flock.

I’ve posted a couple videos (please forgive the poor video quality; all I had for a camera was my iPhone 3Gs) to YouTube of the flock’s maiden and preceding voyage into their new as-of-yet unnamed pool. Any suggestions from somebody other than Pax?

Like I said, this is a pretty hilarious standard operating procedure. After erupting from the water, flapping their wings and making a bunch of noise, they kind of huddle together and exchange some skronks – which is my onomatopoeia neologism for the noises they make – and look at each other sideways in a nervous kind of way, as if they’re saying to each other, “That was nutz!”

One of the delays in putting the pond in place was a dilemma regarding how we would keep it clean. My initial thought was to buy a water pump and build a lava-rock filter using a big plastic tub and some PVC pipe. My concern was that given the level of filth ducks and geese generate in a body of water in short order, 1) a regular pump couldn’t handle the job, and 2) any filter would quickly get gunked up beyond functionality.

My solution was to order a dirty water pump off the Internets. The protocol now is to twice a week drain and refill the pool. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, but animal ownership, especially barnyard animal ownership, involves lots of none-too-awesome chores.

Once I’ve got the pump in place and hooked up to a hose, I drain the pool water into the garden or onto the lawn’s dry patches, instantly dosing out tremendously rich fertilizer. There’s a layer of fine sediment beneath all that stinky pond water, and the pump periodically gets blocked up with ruffage. I’m thinking it might help to put another static filter around the pump to keep some of that junk from blocking it up.

It’s a suitable system for the time being, though I’m a bit concerned about how it will suit come winter. Of course, we’re open to suggestions (of minimal economic cost) if you’ve got a better idea, and I have no doubt there’s one out there.

Next time: peepers as food disposal!

[1] Buggy, n. (inf.), brother; companion, friend; freq. as a form of address

[2] Fowl Knowledge: a female goose is called just that, a “goose,” and a male goose is a “gander.” Now you know, and knowing’s half the battle

This article was originally published on September 10, 2012.