War in par­adise

Words & im­ages He­len Thomp­son

NZ Lifestyle Block - - A Country Life -

Each year, we are wit­ness to the war of the par­adise ducks.

At the bot­tom of our block is a pad­dock which looks much like any other pad­dock. There is a small creek run­ning through it, and a couple of old plum trees and a pear tree from the time when hu­mans had a lit­tle house nearby and tried to eke out a liv­ing be­tween the world wars.

But what makes this pad­dock so dif­fer­ent and so de­sired from all other pad­docks around us is a very old, de­cay­ing weep­ing wil­low. Half­way up the trunk is a large hole, the per­fect place for a mother to lay her eggs.

It’s prime real es­tate for par­adise ducks, and Mr and Mrs Par­rie have lived here for sev­eral years. We know it’s the same pair as they show us scant re­gard, while any new ones fly away if we ven­ture too close. They live here year-round, apart from when they join dozens of other par­adise ducks dur­ing their an­nual moult where ev­ery­one sits around look­ing mis­er­able. But it’s where the ju­niors meet their fu­ture life­long part­ners, and the oldies wait it out un­til their flight feath­ers are in or­der and they can go home.

In mid-au­gust Mr and Mrs Par­rie re­turned home, strut­ting around the pad­dock and oc­ca­sion­ally see­ing off an in­truder. It’s the male’s job to run at any new­com­ers, his wings flash­ing, honk set to loud. The in­truder usu­ally leaves.

But last sea­son must have been good be­cause the num­bers of ducks in­creased while the land acreage re­mained the same, and noth­ing else equals our pad­dock with a wil­low tree like that.

Sud­denly, what was once a peace­ful par­adise was host­ing the in­va­sion of the par­adise ducks, all look­ing for a home. In­stead of our one pair, there were four, plus a lone male who must have lost his wife to the duck shoot­ing sea­son.

The new ducks an­nounced their in­ten­tions, and I guessed who­ever was the strong­est would take over the pad­dock.

the house, like some­one was smack­ing a stick against a post, or dis­tant drums.

They kept up each bat­tle for five min­utes at a time, then Mrs Par­rie would rush in. She didn’t beat her wings like the males, but once she was close enough to the first fe­male she started pulling out the other’s feath­ers with her beak. This at­tack went on for a few min­utes, feath­ers fly­ing, un­til the new pair re­treated.

They could rest, but not Mr and Mrs Par­rie – they were now tak­ing on the next pair. A new bat­tle com­menced, and then again as each new pair had a go.

The fight­ing got more ag­gres­sive, and the ducks that weren’t in­volved in the cur­rent stouch were stand­ing on the side­lines, hurl­ing duck abuse. They were await­ing the out­come, ready to mount their chal­lenge.

As vi­cious as this all seems and sounds, the ducks didn’t seem to dam­age or hurt each other which as­tounded me. Surely they would break a wing, but we didn’t seen any in­juries. The new pairs wouldn’t join in the fray un­til it was their turn to take on the res­i­dents, so it was al­ways one pair at a time – it was a fair fight, but the poor res­i­dents got no respite.

The bat­tles con­tin­ued for al­most four weeks, from dawn to dusk. They got less fran­tic by the third week as all the ducks were tir­ing, but no-one wanted to give in. They hadn’t eaten much in this time and must have been get­ting weak. They were all worn down but Mr and Mrs Par­rie held on.

Even­tu­ally the oth­ers flew off, I guess in the hope that they could find an­other piece of prime real es­tate. They could come back and have an­other at­tempt, but by now the urge to nest or find a home must have been get­ting very strong. The Res­i­dent Pair were left the spoils of the wil­low tree.

But there was still the solo male and he had no in­ten­tion of leav­ing. He didn’t seem to want to move in on Mrs Par­rie, but he did want com­pany. We started to won­der if he was one of their 2014 brood who had ei­ther lost his mate or never We’d love to hear about your property and its an­i­mals, your projects, your life’s mo­ments. Email ed­i­tor@nzlifestyle­block.co.nz, and if you wish to in­clude im­ages, please send high res­o­lu­tion jpegs.

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