Akanksha was the lucky one to raise 4 batches (each batch is around 6 – 10 ducklings) of naktas in her room since my room was full of… er… nothing, there was nothing..
This batch was the most fun! After about 5 weeks at home, they were shifted to the rehab centre and were bold enough to start exploring the outdoors on the very first day. I think that was typical peafowl behavior. They were training each other in things they were good at. The peachicks would instinctively go out probing the earth for insects and worms, and even more interestingly the ducklings would follow them doing the same! The latter were not as efficient and often had this “why are we doing this?” look. The ducklings were fantastic swimmers but the peafowls on the other hand almost drowned when they followed the ducklings in to the water for the first time. I called Akanksha “Quick! Come here, I think the peachicks are going to go swimming!” and sure enough, they jumped in, only to splash all over the place and gulp down a lot of water. They gave up after a few attempts.
We had to keep the ducklings safe from crows and the crows do not miss any opportunity to attack. With this particular batch, we had no problems at all. The peachicks were gaining size much faster than the ducklings, and had taken up the responsibility to keep their flock safe. It was amazing too see their bonding. No crow was allowed anywhere close to the ducklings, the peachicks would puff up,hiss and do a few kung fu kicks in air (typical fowls!). They often chased the crows up to fences and roofs. One guy was so impressive that we called him ‘chowkidar’ – security personnel in Hindi!
“Akanksha and Soham raised these ducks brilliantly well. I couldn’t, but they did a very good job!” hearing this from Sarfraz bhai every time used to fill us up with pride. He mentioned this to every one who visited. He will always praise you for your good work and will always give credits. One of the big reasons I respect him so much. He is awesome!
“Let’s give them some flight exercise” declared Sarfraz bhai one day. “Sure, let’s go!” I was always ready. We noticed they were flapping wings to tone up wing muscles. It was probably not enough as they were lacking a boost to take off. I don’t know what I thought of but I started running towards them while clapping hard. The entire flock took off! They landed on the other side of the pond. This soon became a routine, several times a day. Gradually, the distance from take off to landing started increasing, so much that one day they flew out of the rehab centre completed a small circle and landed back, this time inside the pond!
These small flight circles started to get bigger eventually. The ducks (yes, they were ducklings no more!) looked so beautiful now! One morning a couple of ducks took off and kept on flying in a straight line, kept looking smaller and smaller and finally disappeared!
I didn’t know whether to be happy about it or sad. “Akanksha, the 2 big boys flew towards the river and haven’t returned yet”. Towards the river? Wait a minute! Wild naktas used to forage in the river! With all sorts of imaginations, we rushed down to the river flowing behind the rehab centre. We were pleasantly surprised to see some 30 naktas foraging there. And they all looked the same! There was no way of recognizing our folks. With nothing much to do there, we all came back and hoped for the best.
It was evening now and soon would be the time to lock up all the ducks in their enclosure. I was looking at the horizon, waiting.
“Am I wishing too hard or are these really naktas?” I was not sure, but the birds started appearing bigger and now looked like Naktas. Their landing in the pond finally convinced me these were our ducks. I decided first thing next morning would be to ring these guys so that we can recognize them when they venture out again to the river.
All were ringed and opened up next morning. The ducks took off, this time four out of seven disappeared. We were getting used to the idea of walking up to the river everyday now. Extreme happiness hit us when we spotted all four ringed ducks at the river completely behaving as part of the wild flock! I was now half relieved about their rehabilitation. Just hoped all would gradually start coming here and go away with the flock towards the end of migration.
In a week’s time, all seven ducks were out at the river 🙂 That feeling was awesome! They now started spending all day at the river and would only come back at dusk. One day, only four returned. We didn’t know if the rest were predated or went roosting with wild buddies. Hope hard for the latter. Next evening all seven came back! 🙂
Their coming back was becoming more and more uncertain. Some days they’ll all be back, some days just a couple of them. Even returning days were becoming uncertain. Just two smaller individuals came back for like a week, then suddenly one evening five turned up. We were not worried any more. Things were going just as planned.
After about a month, none returned for over a week. We went down to the river to check but didn’t see any naktas. “They flew away with the wild ducks?”. We certainly hoped so. We used to see occasional ducks at the river. We surveyed the river further ahead to see if they changed the foraging spot, and “there they are!”. Beautiful mature adults, but easily identified by the red rings on legs. We followed the same protocols for all the batches for that season and got the same result.
Season for naktas had ended. Even the naktas at the river had left and migrated elsewhere. The work at the wildlife rehab centre kept us so busy that we didn’t realize almost a year had passed by! One fine morning, four, very healthy and brilliant looking adult naktas (three males and one female) were sitting next to the open pond at the rehab centre. “This is strange!”. I immediately looked for the rings but there were none. “But then, the rings were made out of plastic and could have been broken by them” said Akanksha with a huge smile on her face.
“Keep the same food bowl in front of them and let’s see what they do”.
No way would any wild naktas come and eat from the bowl with us staring at them from 10 feet away. All four started gorging, just like the old days! 🙂