Dudleena the Guard Duck
By Margie Bailey Rose
I act tough, but my children know they can talk me into anything if they convince me it's educational, or that something will die if I say no. I don't mind if some things die; spiders, rabid squirrels, worm-eating moles, but cute baby animals are hard to condemn. Accidental animal collecting is most hazardous at the feed and grain co-op. Never take children along when you buy hay, or you may go home with more mouths to feed. Late spring is especially bad because chicks and ducklings that have outgrown their cuteness are killed to make room for summer plants and gardening equipment. Spring and summer are confused in Southern California– maybe I should say fused– so my timing was off, and we arrived to buy hay and rabbit pellets on the day of the duck execution. Number two came from the back of the warehouse with an adolescent duckling in his shirt and the usual pleading eyes in his face. It had been a few years since Huey, Dewey, & Louie flew away, so my memory of duck raising was fading. There were snails in San Diego but no slugs. Maybe ducks liked slugs with houses. It was worth a try.
The awkward duckling came home with us and was forever grateful. Number two named him Dudley (thankfully not Fred) and he was soon a member of the family. When he grew too big and messy (you know what I mean) for a box, the boys fixed him a pen outside. He never considered himself an outdoor pet, however, and regularly escaped the pen and begged at the sliding door to be let in. I insisted Dudley wear a diaper in the house, since his potty training was a complete failure. He looked especially cute sitting on the couch, watching TV with the kids, wearing his drooping diaper.
As Dudley matured he nominated himself king of the backyard. He ruled the cats, dog, and rabbits with loud quacking, chasing, and nipping. Dudley was not bad tempered, but he did demand order– I related to that. The rabbits were to be in their hutches unless a human was playing with them, and other people's cats were not to be in his yard, ever. The yard-guarding was cute and funny until Dudley alerted us to a large rattlesnake he had cornered on our patio. The duck ran back and forth from snake to patio door, squawking as loudly as he could, until I went out to see what was wrong. We were very glad Dudley found the snake before one of our little girls came across it, and #3 quickly dispatched the snake. Loud quacks brought humans quickly after that, and several snakes and alligator lizards were relocated or killed.
Dudley liked to get between my feet as I watered the yard. I knew it was his way of showing affection, so I resisted booting him out of my way. As I watered the pomegranate tree one summer morning, and did my best to keep from tripping over the duck, I felt something warm and wet on my foot. I looked down and there was a huge, slimy, shiny egg on the toe of my sandal. I called everyone to come see and Dudley became Dudleena for the remainder of her life. She gave us an egg every few days that summer. The eggs had a different taste than chicken eggs so most of the family preferred them in dishes where it wasn't noticeable. A friend of my husband loved the eggs scrambled and fried so he got as many as he wanted.
We had the pleasure of Dudleena's company for three years and then one day she was nowhere to be found. A search of the neighborhood turned up nothing, and since she had never left the yard before I feared she had become dinner for a coyote. They sometimes came up out of the canyons at night and one could have caught Dudleena sleeping. We didn't hear a squawk that night, nor did we find even one beautiful white feather left behind.