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Ack! Disappearing Ducks!

 
Nicole Alderman
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(I'm mostly just venting here, but if anyone has any suggestions, I'd love them!)

Six days ago (October 4th), we came home a little late from my son's birthday party (7:30pm, 30 minutes past sunset). Three of our 17 ducks were gone. They were our big, brown Golden 300 ducks.

The next day (October 5th), my husband sat outside until dark, waiting quietly for the predator. It never came, but there was a Great Horned owl hooting happily.

October 6th: I put them away 30 minutes before dusk (6:30)...only to have another duck gone. It was another big Golden 300. Now we have 13/17 ducks. Once again, there's no sign of attack, no missed body parts, no abnormal feather deposits. We have a four foot tall electrified fence, but it doesn't seem to be working. We do have a large assortment of predators in these parts: coyotes, owls, hawks, cougars, bobcats, dogs, and bob cats. But, we haven't had any losses other than last fall when we lost one duck and another was injured.

October 7th: I put them away at 4:00, and all 13 ducks are accounted for.

October 8th: Put them away at 4:00, and still no more losses.

October 9th: Go to put them away at 4:30...only to realize that our one chicken is gone, and one of the runner ducks flew over the fence, but is safe by the gate. I go searching for our very unintelligent chicken who only has one eye (charity case from my husband's coworker), thinking she probably fell in a hole (she likes to do that). I searched around, but to no avail. Chicken is now gone.

October 10th (today): We vow to keep the ducks safely in the house unless we're outside with them. I let them out for 30 minutes at noon while I'm planting some seeds in the pouring rain. Herd the ducks back to their house... and realize the duck that got injured last year (male ancona we call Gimpy) is now missing. Now we're down to 12/17 ducks. I never heard any abnormal ruckus, and was watching them most of the time. I've searched multiple times for Gimpy, and can't find him .

This is all so very frustrating. I thought at first it was the owl swooping in and snagging a bird and flying off, but now I'm not so sure. Who hunts at high noon!?!

Our current plan is to trap them in their house for at least a week so the predator hopefully goes somewhere else for food. I'm really hoping that will work. I feel so horrible about the ducks and the chicken, and my little two year old son is sad to have lost his "Chicky" as well as his favorite duck, "Gimpy."
 
R Ranson
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Sadness! Hoping things get better soon.


On the West/wet coast here, this is the hunger gap period for predators. They start to gather near the coast waiting for the salmon to spawn. Too many predators plus too little food = fewer livestock.

I'm wondering if it's an eagle. Some of them are large enough to take off with a whole duck or chicken.

Sending good thoughts in your direction - hope you figure out what sort of monster it is and find a way to make it go hungry.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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Search your perimeter fence to look for any kind of crawl under, then start searching for evidence around your perimeter making a bigger circle each time around. Take a walk through your property where the ducks like to hang out and travel, pay special attention to power poles and trees or tree limbs that would provide a raptor a convenient perch to scope out your ducks, then go see if you can find feathers there or fairly close by. Whatever got your animals left some evidence you just have to look until you find it. I had chickens disappearing several years ago, it was driving me crazy not being able to find any sign of entry or an occasional feather to point me in the right direction, after about the third hen, I found one foot, it was laying amongst my dogs favorite chill out spot, dog went away, chickens stopped disappearing.
 
D Cooper
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This does sound like a raptor of some sort, however with such a large prey such as a duck or chicken, they would probably post up somewhere close to consume it vs. taking far to eat. They like to take prey to the top of power poles and other perches that are easy to pen the animal/bird down and tear it.

You didn't state where you were from, if you are close to a body of water, is the property wooded or open. i've had a very large hawk come around the past few weeks and chase around my chickens. My coop is build so that the chickens can go under it when they see flying predators and the run and hide when they see this hawk. My also have a pen that they can go into when scared by flying predators. Tracy, was right stating to look for crawl under spots in fencing.

Trapping them indoors will not solve the problem. Once a predator knows a location/ source of food, they will continue to return so long as they are alive or can get to the chicken/duck.

Talk to some friends who hunt and borrow a trail camera to possibly capture a video of the predator or maybe try some sort of scarecrow and or coyote decoy for flying predators.
 
Nicole Alderman
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We've got five acres entirely surrounded by tall trees, some of which are standing dead or have bare dead branches. The trees are maples, alders, ceder and hemlock. We have a large pond, as well as a stream, multiple wetlands, and a ditch running through our property. The duck's fenced enclosure is four feet tall chicken wire on cedar posts with two lines of electric wire on it (at the top and in the middle). About half of that enclosure is a thicket of tall salmonberries and the rest is grass. It lies halfway under the shade of trees and halfway out in the grassy plane.

I took a walk today and ran across my neighbor who has chickens (in a tiny, very secure coop), and we started talking about the predators. He said he's seen coyotes recently in his back yard, and he's had bobcats snag his chickens in broad daylight while they were out watching them--just jumping out of the branches and snagging them. He also sees the bobcat on my next door neighbor's property, sitting on the hill that's pretty much due east of our ducks. (We're on five acre plots).

So, right now, it looks like our likeliest suspect might just be those bobcats. Now the question is what to do about it... We can legally hunt them here all winter, but I hate to remove needlessly a natural part of our ecosystem. I also have a two year old son, though. Should I worry about him?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Oh, and I forgot to mention, my ducks are usually really good at spotting the souring birds of prey. They see them waaaaaay before I ever do, crane their little heads to look at the predators, and then high-tail it for cover. That's why I wonder if it's a bird of prey swooping out of a tree to snag them, or the bobcat or coyote. Or maybe all three!
 
Eric Thompson
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I my experience the bobcat leaves the least sign behind and can maneuver the fence easily. I haven't had a raptor carry away an adult bird - even a runner duck - they were just eaten in place with the extremities left behind. A bobcat might eat and leave some feathers 10-20 feet outside the fence in a safe area -- look around to see.
It's probably best to limit outside time for a while unless you have a fully enclosed pen..
 
Nicole Alderman
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Yeah, that's what we've been doing . Our poor ducks have been stuck in their 8x8 duck house for three days now (it has four 1x1foot attached nesting boxes, so a total of 68sqft). They are only released while I turn their deep litter bedding at noon, and even then, only into their fenced enclosure. I watched them like a "hawk" yesterday for about 30 minutes so they could all take baths in their enclosure. I'll try to do that every other day, but it's hard when it's raining and I have a toddler I have to watch, too. Sigh. We're also keeping the electric fence on at all times, even though we don't "need" it with the ducks in their secure house. I'm hoping any land predators will get zapped when they come to investigate, and get some good negative reinforcement to keep them from our ducks.
 
Eric Thompson
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You might also do ok with a smaller inner pen - I have used the 6' kennel panels with a wire roof for a 12x6 pen before - and a bobcat can't sneak up so easily either..
 
Nicole Alderman
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Yeah, we've thought about making a sort of portable duck tractor--it's better than being literally cooped up all day. More sanitary, better food, more natural, etc. But, we don't have the money right now . The sad thing is, these ducks were supposed to help us save money on eggs, since my husband eats like 8 eggs a day...and we haven't gotten an egg in two weeks, and before that, it was only one or two (from 11 ducks of laying age). It's frustrating.

I'll check craiglist for some dog kennels, though. I just might get lucky! Thanks for the idea .
 
D Cooper
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I had bobcat in the back of my mind when i posted yesterday. They can leap over a 4ft fence with ease, especially if it is a mature cat. I'd recommend thinning out the bobcats in the area. Put out an ad seeking local trapper. Any local trapper would be happy to come out and set some traps to catch the bobcats and/or coyotes. I would also try and configure a wire to run near or at the top of the fence so that anything that would jump up and then over might get a shocking reminder. I would hesitate cooping up ducks in a tight space just due to the mess they will make.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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I would highly recomend another hot wire about 4" from the ground around your enclosure. Your primary entrance point for ground predators is going to be the bottom wire on your fence. You can't stretch chicken wire tight enough to offer much resistance. Along with near to ground hot wire I would run a strong, heavy gauge wire pulled good and tight, then wire the chicken to it about every 24", this will stop predators from pushing under your fence, during those times they may catch the electric fence not working.
 
Guerric Kendall
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Normally at this time of year on the east coast, it's cooper's hawks that are the culprit. So raptors would generally be my first guess. Except I don't know of any common bird in the US that can take off while carrying a full-grown duck. They kill and eat on the spot. So since you're not finding any bodies or feathers, it's most likely a coyote or bobcat. Only way to get rid of those is to keep your birds cooped until trapping season, or improve your fencing.
 
Nicole Alderman
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You guys are all awesome. I really appreciate all your help and advice!

It is now legal to hunt bobcats, and it looks like their trapping season starts November 1st, which is two and a half weeks away. Maybe my husband or neighbors who hunt will get it before then? I spoke with more of my neighbors today, and they've all spotted the coyotes and bobcat(s). One of my neighbors also adopted a stray kitten...which grew amazingly quickly for being a cat (from itty bitty to full-sized in three weeks). It also has some blotchy, stripy markings...kind of wondering about it's heritage... It does have a long tail, though.

On my husband's next days off, we'll see if we can rig together a sort of duck tractor.

As for the electric wire at 4 inches off the ground, we actually initially had a line there, but our ground is so uneaven (the wire was one inch off the ground in some areas, and 6 inches in others) and the grass grows so fast, and we have no weedwacker, that the fence wasn't working, so we ended up removing it. The bottom of the fencing does fold outward at the ground for about 6-12 inches and it's pinned down. I still need to go around and look for entry points, though, especially since we mistakenly bought non-galvanized fencing, so it's rusting a bit (found that out after we had installed the fence and electric wire, sigh.)

Until we can fortify the fencing, I'm going to keep them in their house, except for monited outside time. Today I let them out at about 10:45 and fed them a days worth of feed, and then watched them forage and bathe until a little after noon. I'm hoping that they will have gotten most of their pooping done outside the duck house. So far their deep litter bedding is staying dry with daily turnings, though I'll probably have to remove a bunch in a few days and add in fresh pine shavings.
 
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