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Lucy (in front) and Bella sit their abutting nests.
Lucy (in front) and Bella sit their abutting nests.

Lucy Lu, our Muscovy duck, has been in voluntary seclusion this past month and a half, patiently sitting on eggs. Duck eggs don’t take a month and a half to hatch, but it took me a couple weeks to decide to find her some fertile eggs to sit, so she’s been sitting extra long.

Me "comforting" poor lonely Bella, the thief.
Me “comforting” poor lonely Bella, the thief.

Meanwhile, her BFF duck, Bella, has been roaming the yard munching slugs, and spending lonely days while her buddy sits and sits and sits. Bella has not been much of a broody duck. She lays eggs now and again, but the sitting for weeks gig has not appealed to her.

So Bella waddles about and Lucy sits. Until two days ago. Two days ago, Bella decided to craft a large nest full of straw and breast feathers overnight. When I opened up their abode, Fowlty Towers, Bella was hunkered down in her comfy seat just inches from Lucy, and the two of them chatted and sat all day.

At dusk, Bella decided some food and drink and a dip in the pond was in order, so I snuck into the maternity ward to see what was up. Clearly, I had not been keeping up with my ducks’ creation endeavors, or I just have two really sneaky ducks.

Bella’s nest was packed with eggs. Nineteen of them! I reached under Lucy and felt about. Nada. Zip. Not a single egg!

Now, Bella had been sleeping in that same spot for weeks and each morning I had checked for eggs. There had been none. Suddenly, there were piles! Lucy had been given nine fertile eggs exactly 27 days earlier.

Doing the math, it was obvious someone had been laying. It appeared that Lucy and stolen Bella’s egg each morning before I opened the coop. Child abduction! But the eggs were infertile, so I guess it was more like not-quite-child abduction.

Lucy was muttering at me a duck version of “what the hell??”

Duck eggs normally hatch at about 28 days. I could not believe the sly con Bella had pulled off. While her best friend sat cramped and nestbound, eating nearly nothing for a month, Bella had enjoyed sashaying through the garden, nibbling, swimming, sunning, and preening. Two days before the ducklings were due to hatch, Bella crafted a nest, stole all of Lucy’s eggs plus all her own, and sat down to wait. And it would not be a long wait at all. Bella, you sly devil, you!

While Bella took an early-evening dip in the wading pool and Lucy sat on a hopelessly empty nest, I piled all the eggs in my sweatshirt and hurried into the house. Our kitchen pantry is large, like a small bathroom, and I grabbed a flashlight and a magic marker before going inside and closing the door behind me.

The pantry went pitch-black as I sat myself on a short stool, all the eggs in my lap. One by one, I held each egg up with the flashlight behind it. In the dark, the infertile eggs were translucent, their floating yolks like a large, soft eye. The eggs with someone home inside were dark as the duckling bodies inside blocked the rays from the flashlight. Out of 19 eggs, five were dark globes. From two of those five, I could hear faint peeps.

Leaving the infertile eggs in the pantry, I hurried back outside and placed three eggs under Lucy (who had been working the hardest and deserved a bigger piece of the pie), and two eggs under Bella. I made sure the two eggs that held the peeping ducklings were under Lucy.

Next morning, I scrambled up the pile of pantry eggs for Mazel Tov, so he could have a spoonful of duck egg goodness with his dinner for a few days. When I opened up Fowlty Towers for the morning, of course, no one came outside to greet the day. Checking on my two sitting ducks, I found that there were—once again—no eggs under Lucy. Bella had kidnapped the entire clan once again.

I grabbed a couple eggs from beneath Bella and felt the cracked piece of an egg shell give way beneath my fingers. Someone was hatching! I hurried the not-quite-a-hatchling beneath Lucy. After all, she’d done all the hard sitting. There is a reason someone coined the term “sitting duck.” Birds that lay their eggs on the ground are at extreme risk from predators of every kind, from snakes to raccoons to other birds. And the more protective the mother duck is of her eggs, the greater chance her life will be lost defending them.

First Born!
First Born!

As far as Lucy knew, she was putting her life on the line each day of sitting—the risk that lurks behind every creative act. I wanted the first hatchling to be all hers. But within the next hours, Bella duck-napped the now-hatched-but-wet duckling back somehow. And all the eggs. An hour later, the duckling was back under Lucy. I think they are passing him back and forth. I have NO idea who he will follow when he leaves the nest.

Tell the world all about it, tiny one!
Tell the world all about it, tiny one!

As of tonight when I left them, two tiny yellow and black-spotted ducklings are warm and dry beneath Bella. Lucy is sitting—still—the remaining three eggs. Her patience astounds me—every bit as much as Bella’s smooth heist. Who knew such scheming went on in the mind of a duck?

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