Bertha’s personality is everything you’d expect in the name “Bertha”. She’s fat and bossy and addicted to slot machines. I should mention she’s a duck. Quite a lucky duck, in fact.


She lays spectacular eggs, whenever she gets around to laying on the regular, that is, which is usually after a very long break, something like September until March. The first year she was so barren that I was thinking of eating her and her personality makes that easy enough to do. When she starts laying again, her years disappear. She whips her head around attentively and gets a right-sharp spring in her waddle, speed even.


Her eggs are spectacular. Gigantic. Like Chinese porcelain and so sturdy you almost need a Dremel to crack the shells. Perfectly clean, too, which is remarkable in duck eggs, as they normally get crapped on to a greater or lesser degree. Her eggs are about 98% yolk, an orange yolk the size of a plum, with just a bit of clear albumen for cushioning. She also holds the flock record at 94 grams; with runner-up Lulu at 90 grams; and for reference, flock average = 78g. True limited edition laying.


My flock consists of six ducks:

  • Mitzi (female, Indian Runner)
  • YoYo (male, Indian Runner, brother of Mitzi)
  • Bertha (female, Rouen)
  • Lulu (female, Pekin)
  • Molly (female, Buff Orpington)
  • Ingrid, aka, Dodo (female, Swedish)


* * *


Oftentimes, when I’m holding open the compound door with dinner in their bowl, the scene will be like this: one duck shoots in; two ducks shoot in; three and four jostle the doorframe in a race, five brings up the rear, crazed because the faster ducks are already hoovering up pellets in a feeding frenzy!


And then Bertha stops short outside the door. Vocalizes how I’m too damn close to the entrance and crowding her.


Back up human.


Back up human.


“Get in there!”


Not going in until you give me space.


“Come on!”




So I’m forced to lock the door up and take a step back – so she can regally waddle past me, muttering loudly about how I made her late for the dinner frenzy in progress.




Once, I didn’t notice she was not in the group and I closed the door and went about my evening. The next morning when I raised the shades a cold chill shot through me to see Bertha rooting happily on the Mound all loose and free. More proof of her inherent luck, because normally the raccoons patrol in loops all night.

* * *


The “slot machine” is an automatic feeder that snags stray pellets in the dispenser. With some shaking they can be dislodged, which Bertha does in an impressively practiced, rapid-fire way. The other ducks give it an occasional play, but just in the first 15 minutes after it has dropped to try and milk every morsel. Bertha plays the long game. She’s obsessed with it. It’s not unusual for the five others to be hanging at the far side of the yard, enjoying the afternoon sunlight while she’s back in the duck compound, chasing the action. Rattlerattlerattlerattle. Plink, plink, plink. Pellets hit the bowl with such a distinct, happy payoff sound that even I get jazzed to hear them. All she needs is a menthol Capri 100 dangling from her mouth.

Woe unto any greedy bystander that might take advantage of Bertha’s work and jump on those payoff pellets. However, Lulu, a white Pekin, is tough enough to occasionally hang around and try to horn in on the action. At night, Lulu 100% owns the food trough for sleeping, that’s her bed, never any argument. She’s the most Buddhist of personalities, calm and unfazed by everything. When Bertha goes into a rage and latches onto Lulu’s big fluffy pillow-padded throat, she just stands there and wonders when will this annoyance end.


Ducks fight mostly like sumo wrestlers. With their dull bills they clamp onto the bulging crop of another duck, which is arguably, the strongest muscle on a duck and also likely to be padded with food. They make some obnoxious, vaguely duck-scary fight sounds that are reserved for battles. If you were locked in a windowless room and heard those sounds, you would know it’s either Spring or Autumn, the seasons when new “pecking order” is re-defined. I use quotes around “pecking order” because ducks don’t peck. The don’t have beaks, they have bills. They poke. They latch. They push. They use psychological intimidation. Obnoxious cannibal chickens are the poultry that peck.

Lulu’s favorite thing is to sit on eggs in the morning, whether she personally laid them or not. Often she pushes the eggs left by the other girls into a single clutch so she can keep them safe. Which does make some sense when you consider she has the broadest beam of the bunch…. She will sit there happily until I open the door, the others run out and she reluctantly bows to peer pressure.


Ducks don’t “build nests” they make clutches. They sit down and shimmy their butts to form a crater, pretty much like a cartoon bird getting comfy. Once settled they’ll start raking close all the straw they can reach to form a cozy bowl.





* * *


An even luckier story –


Bertha came from Craigslist, with an identical sister. Rouens. It was twenty bucks for the two of them, from a lady who was ending her duck hobby.

I was new at this duck thing and had only completed the compound a month or two before, so there were still some bugs in the design. Such as a tight, dismal, but accessible gap under their pool which was where the two newcomers huddled for days in fear of the sex-mad YoYo who was… exuberant. So I had to make a quick temporary pen where they could be more gradually acclimated.  


While both of them were in the temporary pen, a raccoon squeezed in after midnight. Twice in fact, as I scared the raccoon off with a pellet gun, then in raccoon fashion, she came back. Incredibly, Bertha was unscathed, despite being in the same 5’x5’ pen where the sister was brutally mauled. My girlfriend helped me finish her off with an axe and roast her. Which is a cartoon cliché and not really the most effective way to de-head a duck, but it was my first. Experienced advice – use tree loppers. That’s the best way. They’re a guaranteed clean cut all the way through, no risk of nervous aim, and you can even do it solo….


Bertha was shell-shocked. The next week she stood at the edge of the fence, looking out to the street, never moving. Wondering when her sister was coming back. Within a few days I quickly got another female duck on Craigslist. It shook up the status quo, gave her someone subordinate to push around and the chance to move solidly into Duck Position #3, a spot she still holds today and regularly defends.


* * *


This winter the ducks slowed down their laying much more than in past winters so as Spring approached I became especially anxious for eggs. I even had to resort to buying a couple dozen “large” chicken eggs at Winco and was startled by how small and tasteless they seem after a life full of duck eggs.


On 3/14 (Pi Day), Bertha came back online. In checking the data, I saw that 3/15 was her restart time last year. Impressively close, I thought. And then I remembered – humans call this a “Leap Year,” meaning that 3/14 this year, with Feb 29th inserted, is actually the equivalent of 3/15 last year.


She hit it right on the money. A very lucky duck.



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