Leader of the Ducks

A couple of summers ago, a neighbor stopped by our farm. He lived a mile or so up the road, and we’d never met before. He had a strange question: Would we be interested in another goose?

He’d driven past our place hundreds of times, and had seen our big gaggle of geese out in the pasture, so he knew we raised them. Somehow or another, he’d acquired a goose but didn’t want it anymore. I never got the whole story. Anyway, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He couldn’t chase it off. He didn’t feel comfortable butchering it. Could he give it to us?

Sure, I replied. Our geese have been pretty good about welcoming new members into the flock. And if it didn’t work out, I could always simply butcher the thing.

He said that he’d try to catch it and bring it by sometime. I told him that if we weren’t home, he could simply throw it over the pasture fence.

Apparently, that’s exactly what happened. We never saw the neighbor again, but a few days later there was a really weird-looking bird wandering around in the pasture. It was quite large, and gray, but (unlike a gray Toulouse) with a knob on its head. It looked a lot like the African goose we already had, except bigger. I concluded it must be an African gander. Nice. Now we have a breeding pair, I thought.

Except there was a problem. The rest of the flock wanted nothing to do with this interloper. Every time he approached them, they ran him off. I realized that all the other times we’d introduced new geese to the flock, they’d been young goslings. Within seconds of putting the goslings on the ground, a couple of flock females would swoop in and claim them — and then the entire gaggle would start trumpeting an initiation rite. A few minutes later, the goslings would follow the rest of the birds around as if they’d been hatched on the property.

Given this rejection, I assumed I’d have to butcher the new gander. I was fine with that. If he wasn’t going to work out, he wasn’t going to work out. It was just kind of sad, watching him stand around all by himself. Geese are social animals, and he looked downright forlorn. That said, simply being out in the pasture, he certainly wasn’t hurting anything. Since I was really busy with work (it was summer of an election year), and didn’t have time to butcher him, I figured I’d give him a couple of months.

Then something unexpected happened. Our ducks adopted him as their leader! We had about a dozen ducks at the time, and they tended to keep to themselves. (You know, “birds of a feather” and all that.) But, suddenly, there was this great big huge sort-of-duck wandering around and trying to fit in where ever he could. He started following the ducks around. Before long, the ducks were following him around. They became their own group, and went everywhere together. It was so much fun to watch, I decided not to butcher him that fall. Here they were, in the middle of last winter:

IMG_20150120_105926669

Eventually, sometime last summer, the geese accepted him as one of their own. I didn’t notice an initiation rite; there just came a time when the ducks were running by themselves, and he was running with the geese. He now hangs out with the geese exclusively. As far as I can tell, he’s now a full member of the gaggle.

So, if you’ve ever “taken a gander” at something, but initially not succeeded … keep at it. Find a way. Who knows how much fun, and how much of an adventure, you’ll have as you get there.

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